The gray-haired, one-legged man just had to meet Wayman Tisdale. He knew, of course, that the big fellow sitting in an exam room had been a basketball legend. He probably even knew that Tisdale had become quite the jazz musician. But that wasn’t the thing that drew him to Tisdale’s room last winter. Tisdale was a one-legged man, too. "You’ve been such an inspiration,” the gray-haired man’s daughter said, doing as adult children often do and speaking for her father. Wayman Tisdale wowed people with his basketball and his music during his cancer-shortened life, but over the past couple years, he did so much more than that. He inspired people. He battled cancer. He endured chemotherapy. He sacrificed his leg in an attempt to save his life. "And it didn’t seem to faze him — ‘It’s not a big deal. I’ll get through it,’ ” said Scott Sabolich, the Oklahoma City prosthetist who got Tisdale back on his feet after his amputation last fall. "Just really strong. "It gives you strength.” So often in sports, we talk about athletes playing inspired or about performances being inspirational. Often, those are just flowery words and convenient catchphrases. The way that Wayman Tisdale lived his life since discovering he had cancer a little over two years ago actually was inspiring. He never stopped smiling, but more than that, he never stopped thinking about others despite circumstances that would’ve forced most of us into a self-centered cocoon. He would visit other cancer patients at Houston’s renowned M.D. Anderson cancer center during trips there for his own chemotherapy. He would go room to room offering encouragement and support and smiles. Who knows how many people drew strength from that? Then, even after all those terrible, horrible rounds of chemo failed and doctors had to amputate his leg anyway, Tisdale started talking about helping other cancer patients more. He wanted to start a foundation to help those who couldn’t afford their care. "I want to be able to help other people do this,” Tisdale told me during an interview last winter. "I want to give them the chance, because if I hadn’t been blessed to the point I’ve been blessed, then I couldn’t do this.” As Tisdale said those words, he sat in a chair without his prosthetic, his right leg all but gone, his stump covered by a pair of shorts. Blessed? "You know what’s disheartening?” Wayman continued. "So many people, even in Oklahoma, leave it on and die. A lot of people don’t have the insurance I had. A lot of people don’t have the money to go through that.” So, they keep their cancerous limb instead of having an amputation that could save their life. Tisdale wanted to do something to help. Even as cancer continued eating at his 44-year-old body, he started the Wayman Tisdale Foundation. Had he lived, there’s no doubt he would have raised millions of dollars and helped thousands of people, and yet, his vision will live on. Wayman Tisdale impressed us with his basketball skill and his musical talent, but during these last days of his life, he inspired us with his strength and his compassion. That will be his legacy. Jenni Carlson: 475-3314, firstname.lastname@example.org. Jenni Carlson can be heard Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. on KEBC-AM 1340. View/sign the guest book
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