Not many people would risk leaving almost $21 million on the table in order to get their child a few hundred miles closer to medical care that she might not even need.
But that’s exactly what NBA star Derek Fisher did for his infant daughter, Tatum, who is battling a rare form of cancer in her left eye.
In an exclusive interview, Fisher told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer why he feels he made the only decision he could when he asked the Utah Jazz and the league to release him from his lucrative contract after his daughter was diagnosed with retinoblastoma this spring.
A second opinion
Tatum's illness was discovered after Fisher’s wife, Candace, suspected something was wrong when she noticed that the baby’s left eye seemed to glow when looked at from certain angles.
In April, Tatum was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer so rare that only about 300 children in the United States are diagnosed with it each year.
The first advice the couple got was to have Tatum’s eye removed. The Fishers weren’t willing to do that.
A second doctor suggested a procedure so new that it was still in the clinical-trial stage of testing. Tatum was operated on at New York Presbyterian Hospital in May, with the Jazz in the semifinals of the NBA playoffs. Fisher missed Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors to be at Tatum’s bedside before and after the surgery.
He made it back barely in time to suit up for Game 2, revealing why he had been absent only after he had hit the game-winning basket for the Jazz (which ultimately lost the series).
After the surgery, Tatum had no vision in the eye, but Fisher has said that she should regain some vision — perhaps 15 percent. Fisher asked to be released from his contract so he could be closer to one of the hospitals that could best monitor Tatum’s progress.
Fisher’s decision to walk away from his contract might be a major one for many people, but he felt it was his duty as Tatum's dad to do whatever he had to do to make sure she got the best possible medical care. He did not consider it a gamble.
”I don’t feel that basketball is the only way to make a living,” he went on. “I feel like I’m capable of doing so many things to help people around the country and around the world. I felt confident I could make the decision not knowing what was to come.”
Everything is working out, so far. Tatum’s surgery was successful and she’s completed three rounds of chemotherapy. Now, the 1-year old will be monitored by doctors in case the cancer returns.
As for Fisher, who left the Jazz on July 2, he is now the newest member of the L.A. Lakers, who will pay him $14 million for the next three years of his services.
‘You just work it out’
The next three years are key for the Fisher family as a whole, as that is when the rare type of cancer Tatum developed typically appears in children. Tatum’s twin brother, Drew, has a greater chance of developing the disease because his sister had it, but so far he has tested negative for it, Fisher said.
The family’s two older children, Marshal and Chloe, are not in danger.
Lauer asked if perhaps the decision was easier for Fisher to make than it would have been for a player just starting his career and trying to achieve the financial security that Fisher has been able to provide for his family.
“Probably so,” Fisher replied. “I think that early in your career, when you’re trying to establish yourself, you’re trying to set up that financial security for you and your family, it’s more difficult.
“I think at this point in my career, and in my life, really, not just as a basketball player but as a man, more than anything — learning how to be a husband and learning how to be a father —those are the sacrifices you make for your family, and you just work it out.”