The finality settled in as Steve Blake sat by his cousin's bedside.
Blake was a sophomore at the University of Maryland and was visiting Danny Ketchum in the hospital. Ketchum, whom Blake considered a hero, had been diagnosed at age 4 with a brain tumor and, at the time, given six months to live.
Fourteen years later, in 2001, Ketchum's health now was failing. He wore a Terrapins jersey. And though he would die a week later, he wore a smile on his face. That was how Ketchum went through life; despite his illness, he maintained a positive attitude.
"I knew he'd want me to push through it, not dwell on it, and just move forward," Blake said about his loss. He also said that playing basketball helped him get through his grief.
Blake knew at that last visit that he wanted to do something that would make a difference. And he has.
He is involved with several charitable causes, some devoted to cancer research and treatment. Several family members of Blake's wife, Kristen, also died from the disease. Steve's father survived a brief cancer scare, and his former coach, Denver's George Karl, fought throat and neck cancer two years ago.
"We all share that together," Steve Blake said, as he sat next to Kristen during a recent interview at their home. "That's why I think it's so important for all of us to give back and help in some way."
In anticipation of her 30th birthday on March 27, Kristen Blake set up a website at kristensbirthdaywish.com to provide links for people to donate to various charities she and Steve support.
Steve Blake has partnered with the Children's Cancer Assn. in honor of Danny Ketchum. Blake also signed up with Athletes vs. Cancer, a foundation that Lakers forward Matt Barnes founded in 2008 after losing his mother, Ann, to lung cancer. Kristen Blake is currently training for the Hollywood Half Marathon April 7. She hopes to raise at least $1,300, which Steve will match, to donate to Samaritan's Purse, an international relief organization. They also will visit a sponsored child this summer in Rwanda through Africa New Life, which provides medical supplies.
Kristen said that collecting donations instead of birthday presents seemed appropriate after last Christmas, when Steve's sister, Debbie, gave her a wrapped receipt showing she had donated toys to a family as her gift to Kristen.
"One of the most awesome Christmas presents I ever received," Kristen said. "It made me really happy."
Steve's spirits were often lifted in the time he spent with Danny.
They played T-ball. Growing up in Miami, the two often watched University of Miami and Florida State games together. Danny regularly attended Steve's high school basketball games. When Steve moved on to the University of Maryland, Danny decorated his room with plenty of Terrapins memorabilia. The two often watched tapes of Steve's high school and college games when Steve visited Danny in the hospital.
To teammates and friends who didn't already know his cousin, Steve kept pretty quiet about his special kinship with Danny. Considering Danny didn't show physical effects from his cancer, Steve said they hardly noticed.
"At times, you didn't realize he was going through it," Steve said.
"He was smiling and joking and being himself. To see someone going through that tough type of stuff and still be happy all the time is pretty amazing."
Danny epitomized his lighthearted personality, Steve recalled, when shortly before his death he met Michael Jordan through the Make a Wish Foundation. Danny approached Jordan and gave him his autograph instead of asking for one.
"That was his type of humor," Steve recalled, while he and Kristen laughed. "Michael was privileged enough to meet him."
Steve said he feels that way. Even if he lost a close cousin at a young age, Steve remains grateful that Danny lived as long as he did. "He was something pretty much of a miracle."
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