Zias coach rebounding from cancer

Zia basketball head coach Dan Buzard explains a play to freshman guard Lindsey Wood Wednesday during practice at Greyhound Arena. Buzard is back to coaching after sitting out a year. (Freedom Newspapers: Leslie Spence)

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

After enduring 14 months of chemotherapy, Zia basketball coach Dan Buzard and his family are hopeful that 2006 will bring good health and a return to regular routines.

Buzard said he has a scheduled doctor’s appointment in Albuquerque in March. He said the progression in his health could mean that he may not need chemotherapy after March.

“Both of our birthdays are in March,” Jennifer, Buzard’s wife, said. “It would be a great birthday present for the both of us.”

Although the chemotherapy has been successful, Buzard said it has reduced the cancerous tumor from eight centimeters to less than the size of a pencil eraser, he said he’s tired of it and would like to get it over with.

Buzard underwent surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor last year before the Eastern New Mexico University Zias’ basketball season. The pressure from the tumor caused him to lose a lot of his eyesight at the time. Buzard said his sight has improved some over the last year.

“I’m not sure if I’ll ever have it (completely) back,” Buzard said. “It’s a little discouraging, not being able to see everything. I had my eyesight for 36 years. There’s not any detail or clearness to everything I see.”

Buzard said there’s not a specific surgery to fix his eyesight.

“As far as my health, I feel OK,” Buzard said. “My energy level stays up pretty well. I don’t have the energy level I used to have (before the chemotherapy).”

Buzard sat out the 2004-05 basketball season while he was recovering Dustin Klafka coached the team.

“We really didn’t see him very much last year,” Heather Brown, a sophomore for the Zias, said. Brown said the girls’ basketball team made a trip to Albuquerque in September, 2004 to see their coach. “He couldn’t see us. He recognized us by our voice. It was real emotional for all of us. His eyesight is better than last year.”

Tiana Bryant, a senior post player for the Zias, said he’s been more involved with this year’s team. Buzard said his assistant coaches, Haley White and Chad Walker, have helped him a lot with the team.

“He’s more vocal,” Bryant said. She said an emotional night was when ENMU had “Meet the Players Night” last year before the season started and Buzard had tears in his eyes. “He started crying. We tried to be tough for him.”

Brown and Bryant have been with the team since 2003. Buzard is entering his 18th season as a coach for the Zias, 13 of those seasons were as an assistant coach.

“He was very excited (about coaching again this season),” Jennifer Buzard said. “He would never stop talking about it when he’s home.”

Brown said Buzard’s appearance was changed a great deal since her first year because of the chemotherapy.

“He changed a lot,” Brown said. “He was a whole different person. The game of basketball has kept his spirits up. He’s still the same person in the way he acts. He still loves the game a lot. He’s not really negative and he’s encouraging and supportive.”

Buzard has had help from his supportive wife, Jennifer, in keeping his spirits up. The couple have been married for 19 months.

“I didn’t know if he was going to make it last year,” Jennifer Buzard said. “I think he’s improved a lot (since the same time last year). He’s able to see a little and do stuff on his own.”

Buzard said with her help and support from the community he remains optimistic his health will continue to improve.

“She’s been there through it all,” Buzard said. “A lot of people prayed for me. I couldn’t have made it this far without their prayers.”