In 2015, while donning the Gran Canaria jersey, a tumor was found in Kyle Kuric’s brain. After an obligatory medical break including two surgeries, he bounced back stronger to resume playing basketball. Now, Kuric tells his story of trouble and recovery for TrendBasket.
Here’s the whole process, as he recalls:
It was 5:37 a.m and I was frantically grabbing my luggage to get in the car and head to the airport. The team bus left at 5:30 and I slept through it. It was the first time I’ve ever done that. At the airport and throughout the day I had a headache. I didn’t think anything of it, just attributed it to a rushed and long morning. I barely made it through practice focusing on going to sleep that night. My appetite wasn’t the same, I wasn’t hungry but forced myself to eat because we had an important game the next day.
I got up the next day not feeling much better. I carried on my usual game-day routine. Everything was alright until I started to warm up before the game. My headache kept getting worse. I asked our team doctor for some Ibuprofen (painkiller). And approximately 10 minutes later and then for something stronger after that until I couldn’t take anything else. I stopped warming up and sat on the side thinking it was a migraine. I sat on the bench the whole game… with noticeably progressive dizziness and pain whenever I would stand up. I told everyone I would be fine. That night we left for Bilbao to practice for a day. I missed the practice session again for the same reason. That night I went to the hospital for the first time. They put me on oxygen and told me it was just meningitis. My dad (a neurosurgeon) said to get an MRI done to make sure. They didn’ it, so I went back to the hotel.
The next morning, we travelled to Barcelona for another day of practice before heading to Berlin for a Eurocup game. Nothing has changed, I was not able to practice in that day, too. This time I waited at the locker room with all the lights off because it hurt my eyes too much, just like I sat on the bench the game before that day. After the practice, we went to the hospital again and requested an MRI. They wouldn’t do it and said I should fly back to Gran Canaria in the morning while the team went to Germany. We asked for a note saying I was ok to fly and they wouldn’t write it.
“This was the easy part for me”
When I woke up the next morning I felt like I was drunk. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t see straight. And I felt sick. I was taking a shower and got out and projectile vomited everywhere. We went back to the hospital for the third time. This time they did the MRI, and there it was: Meningioma with massive swelling. From the moment of me showering to finding out I had a brain tumour, my memory is very spotty. I remember calling my wife and my dad and telling them what was happening. The next step was emergency surgery. My wife flew to Barcelona and later a friend brought my 4-month-old twin boys over so I could see them before surgery….not knowing what the outcome would be. For me, this was the easy part. For my wife, family, and friends; this was inconceivable.
I had 2 surgeries: one to remove the tumour, and the next to remove a forehead size piece of my skull to relieve pressure. I was still on the brink of death. I was in a coma for 2 days until I woke up. I had to be restrained because the sound of my wife’s voice had too much of an impact on me to go to her. I lost 22+ pounds of muscle mass. Finally, I was getting better.
The next months I had no idea how hard it was really going to be. I had to start completely over. It was days after coming out of the coma until I was able to sit up. It was days after I stood up for the first time, with 2 nurses supporting me. Days were gone until I took one step and had to sit down from exhaustion. Then finally, slowly, I was able to walk to the door. Then down the hall. Then around the floor. Every day getting stronger and wanting to do more. I still had to have a wheelchair to go outside. This was difficult for me to comprehend. I’m a professional athlete. This isn’t supposed to be this hard. Finally, after 2 weeks in the hospital, I was released.
“I’m playing before this year is over.”
I had to stay in Barcelona until my next surgery. This one was to replace the vast amount of bone they removed. Until this surgery, you could feel my brain when you touched my forehead. I was getting light headed whenever I stood up too quickly. I had to always be aware of anything around me. People would stare at me because of how my head looked. My body was getting better but I was getting exhausted after walking a couple blocks. This surgery was easier compared to the other two but there was still a big risk with an infection. The surgery went well and everything was going to be okay. I had to stay in the hospital for a little while to make sure. I met with the doctor one last time to talk about rehabilitation, expectations, and to say thank you! They said I shouldn’t expect to play again until at least one year!!! I said no f*cking way. I’m playing before this year is over. At the time that was less than 7 months away.
“It was the first time I’ve ever been happy to run.”
I decided to do my recovery in Gran Canaria. I thought it was the best place. Good weather, nice people, good food, and a very good physical therapist I trusted. My first day of physical therapy was balancing and walking. I lost all of my muscle mass and had to start over. I was no longer a well-conditioned strong athlete. I was a frail skinny one. We started with balance work, pool workouts, and band strengthening. Most of my workouts started in the pool; it was easier on my body because my body weight was supported. We worked out every day at least once and some days twice. It was very difficult to go to practices and just watch everyone else play while I was so far behind.
The first day I ran was 2 months after my first surgery! It was the first time I’ve ever been happy to run. I remember my wife videoing me from our terrace running on the beach. It was only about 10 yards but to me, it felt like a mile. Every day I was doing more and more. I started to crave getting better and better results. After this, my runs started getting longer. We would run up and down the beach for 30 minutes varying the pace.
After a couple weeks that seemed like an eternity, I start doing some basketball. The first time I ran and dribbled was awkward. It felt like I was a young kid who didn’t know how to use his body. I had a long way to go until I could play. My goal was to play in less than half of the time the doctors told me and before the season finished. They told me 1 year. I wanted 4-5 months. I had to start slow but continually push my body and mind.
“I couldn’t have been happier.”
The best thing I had going for me was my mentality. My mental toughness had to become stronger so I could continue to push my body. I started reading books about life, purpose and motivation. What helped me the most was the “self-help” books. I thought these books were a waste of time and for “weak” people. I couldn’t have been more wrong. These books/videos I would watch were all about positive thinking and how it can help you. I started visualizing everything. I would see myself playing in a game again. I would see the car I wanted and myself getting into it to push me harder when I wanted to quit on conditioning. This started to push me harder and harder.
After a lot of work in the weight room, on the track and on the court, I was cleared to start practising with the team. I felt like I was ready. I was very wrong. I couldn’t keep up. I was still very weak and slow. It was very frustrating, especially after all of the work I had put in. It took a couple more weeks until I was able to compete again. Finally, one practice it was like a switch that had turned. I was quicker, jumping higher, and more aggressive. I was making 3 after 3 and it was like no one could stop me! After this practice, I got a dress in the next game! I didn’t think I would play much if at all. Maybe a couple minutes in the 2nd half. I was the first one off of the bench. First play back in the game I drew a charge! We got the ball and the first play on offence was for me! I caught it and shot a 3 and made it! My first shot back in a game just after 5 months since surgery was a 3, and I made it! The crowd went crazy. I couldn’t have been happier. I was finally back to playing the game I love.
It would still be many weeks and months until I was back to my normal weight and explosiveness. After the season there were still many questions about my health and if I could still play at that level. I signed again with Gran Canaria. We played a preseason tournament with the top 3 teams from the previous year. We weren’t expected to win the first game. We beat the home team. I scored over 20 points and sealed the game for my team. We would be playing against FC Barcelona in the championship game. To note, Gran Canaria had never won a championship before that date. We beat Barcelona the next game for the first ever club title! I was named MVP!
All of the hard work paid off. It took 10 months until I had gained everything I lost and then became a better player. People say it all the time but thinking positively and working for what I wanted, made the difference for me. Not only in basketball. It kept me alive.