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USC coach opens up about leukemia

McDonald was diagnosed three weeks ago, starts treatment this week


South Carolina men's golf coach Bill McDonald has known for three weeks that he has leukemia. He was not aware how many other people apparently knew about it, though.

McDonald, 43, said he was recruiting at the Bobby Chapman Junior Championship in Spartanburg this past weekend when concerned parents of players and spectators approached him, asking about his illness. That's when the third-year coach decided it was time to put the news out - the accurate news, he said.

"Someone outside my circle - family, the athletics department - had taken it upon themselves to get the word out for me," he said. One person told McDonald he had heard the coach "discovered a spot - whatever that means."

The truth is less mysterious and far more encouraging, McDonald said.

A recent routine physical revealed an elevated white blood cell count, and further tests, including a bone marrow biopsy, determined McDonald has chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML.

"I wouldn't have gone to the doctor unless it was time for the physical," he said. "I felt fine, was having a productive summer recruiting. It was a complete shock."

McDonald said he has had biannual PSA screenings since turning 40 because his father had prostate cancer and an uncle suffered from colorectal cancer. CML is not hereditary, however, he said.

The good news is that the disease was discovered early. McDonald will begin treatment this week by taking Gleevec, a drug he said has been used successfully to treal CML since 2000, with a remission rate of about 90 percent.

"I'm lucky. They've had a lot of success with this treatment," McDonald said.

The drug is taken daily in pill form and has side effects that are mild compared to chemotherapy, he said. Future treatment, if required, could involve a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

McDonald said he anticipates no impact on his coaching of his team. The Gamecocks finished fifth in their first fall tournament, the Carpet Classic in Dalton, Ga., two weekends ago.

"They caught (his illness) early, and my health is beyond good," he said. "They've had a lot of success (treating CML) the past 10 years, so I'm very optimistic.

"I haven't felt any differently, and my routine hasn't changed. Saturday I went recruiting and then drove back for the (USC-Florida Atlantic) football game, so I'm not exactly suffering a lot."

McDonald and his wife, Tanya, have two sons, Trace and Tyler.