Following his 2018 cancer diagnosis, Daren McClellan took inspiration from the kids he surrounded himself with as special teams coach of the Baytown Christian Academy football team.
McClellan, 52, a native of the small panhandle town of Dumas who played football at Baytown’s Sterling High School before graduating from Deer Park High School, doesn’t deny that the diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma was scary, but says being able to focus on his coaching and mentoring duties was a godsend.
“That was everything to me,” said McClellan, a BCA coach for 16 years. “I fell in love with the part of coaching where you’re training young men to understand that it’s not just a game; it’s about building relationships with them to encourage them to be responsible, make a commitment to something and never quit.”
McClellan received chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center at Baytown guided by Radiation Oncologist Dr. Mary Goswitz and Medical Oncologist Dr. Cesar De Las Casas. He celebrated the conclusion of his treatments last December during a “bell ringing” ceremony attended by a large contingent of BCA players and students and family and friends. McClellan is scheduled to be the featured speaker at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital’s Cancer Survivors Celebration on Wednesday, June 26.
McClellan’s cancer was initially detected during a routine dental exam. After a biopsy revealed the presence of cancer in August 2018, he began treatments in October as the team was preparing for a playoff run that would eventually lead to winning the TAPPS 6-man division III championship.
“I didn’t miss much work or practices, but every day when I got home, I was worn out,” he recalls. “As the radiation and chemo treatments went on, by the time we got to Thanksgiving, I couldn’t swallow or eat. I had to take my food through a feeding tube, which was really hard because one of my favorite things to do is eat.”
Immediately following the football season, McClellan says the emotional impact of not being around the team daily created a painful void, but he’s grateful that subsequent exams have determined that he remains cancer-free. However, he is still coping with issues related to his ability to swallow.
“My only recovery now is to get to where I can eat a steak again. The biggest thing I had was the support of my family, the hospital, my school and my church. When people would tell me, ‘I’m praying for you,’ I would say, ‘I know. That’s why I’m doing so good. Please don’t stop.’”
McClellan says the true stars of his cancer journey were the cancer center physicians, nurses and staff.
“The staff of Dr. De Las Casas and Dr. Goswitz were amazing. They treat you like family. The care, concern and compassion they showed was more than I could ever imagine,” he said.
McClellan says the one message he’d like to deliver to those diagnosed with cancer is to embrace activities that allow them to focus on others rather than their next doctor’s appointment.
“I can only speak for myself, but being able to focus on helping my players achieve their goals was so important. Coaching these young men is where my heart is. I would encourage other patients to focus on things that are close to their heart and think about other people as much as possible,” McClellan said.
The Cancer Survivors Celebration takes place on Wednesday, June 26 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the conference center classroom at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital. To register, visit houstonmethodist.org/events, or call 281-428-2273.