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Adrenal Tumor Scare

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Thomas rebounds from tumor scare


By Jerry Tipton





That diagnosis sent shockwaves through the Kentucky basketball program last fall.


Sophomore forward Sheray Thomas had been sluggish and easily fatigued. Relying on their athletic backgrounds, the coaches urged him to play harder. That didn't help.


Then a medical examination revealed the reason why Thomas got tired so quickly: A tumor was growing on his adrenal gland.


"It kind of scared me," Thomas said yesterday when asked about his initial reaction to the diagnosis.


It scared his coaches and teammates, too.


"I got scared," Chuck Hayes said. "That's very scary. Life and death, really."


Doctors removed the benign tumor -- which was tennis-ball sized, Thomas said -- in a six-hour surgery in early October.


Thomas lost about 40 pounds. UK coaches considered sitting out Thomas this season. But once his daily post-op nausea ended after about two weeks, he began the process of getting back in good enough shape to play.


"I pushed myself as hard as I could," he said. "You never realize what you have until it's gone. You want to do anything to go back out and play."


Thomas, whose rebounding and physical play off the bench fit an acute UK need, returned for a cameo role against Louisville on Dec. 18. His stints increased to six and 10 minutes against William & Mary and Campbell.


He's now well enough to not be satisfied with anything but the maximum playing time possible. In other words, he's like most other college players.


When a reporter asked if he'd expect to log eight to 10 minutes against South Carolina tonight, Thomas said his expectation was "more than that."


"I'll always say that," he added with a smile. "But that's pretty much up to the coach."


UK Coach Tubby Smith, who earlier marveled at how quickly Thomas got back into practice routines, said the player was now "full tilt."


Well, not quite full tilt, Smith added. With the physical demands of practice and games, the coach expressed doubt that Thomas will return to his playing weight of 230 pounds.


"He probably won't put that weight on until after the season," Smith said. "But he knows how to adapt and adjust to what he has to work with."


Thomas tried to adapt long before doctors discovered the tumor. He recalled feeling so weak after his senior year of high school in Upper Marlboro, Md., that he had to stay in bed for long stretches.


Thomas did not feel pain, but he noticed how quickly he got tired. "Just from shooting before practice, before stretching," he said. "I didn't feel ready to go. Something was taking away my energy, making me sweat more.


"The coaches said I wasn't going as hard as I could. Being lazy, pretty much."


Then Thomas learned of the tumor at the end of September.


Yes, he said, he wondered if he'd play basketball again.


"That was the thought in my head," Thomas said. "People were saying that. I always thought I'd come back. I was scared, but I stayed positive."


Doctors needed six hours to remove the tumor, in part, because the adrenal gland is in the back of the abdomen and requires a methodical surgical touch to reach, and because the tumor was large.


As difficult as the surgery was, the recovery period was "way worse," Thomas said. "Horrible."


Thomas grew nauseous. "Every day I was sick," he said. "It was a rough couple weeks."


The surprise of his post-op difficulties, which can be a normal effect of major surgery, probably slowed his recovery.


"A big shock," he said. "I guess I didn't ask as many questions (before surgery) as I needed to."


Now, Thomas said he feels good. He brushed off a bruised knuckle on his right ring finger.


"No injury is fun," he said, rubbing the knuckle, "but this is better than the injury I had before."


His return caused a hooray-for-Sheray reaction from teammates and coaches.


"It's unbelievable," Patrick Sparks said. "He's made big strides. People were talking of redshirting. It's given us an inspirational lift."

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