Seton assistant hoops coach handling of life exemplary

September 24, 2018 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

Tiffany Tate (left) with Seton players Kendall Krick & Sarah Barcello & coaches Jennifer King & Karen Self after winning last year's 4A state championship. (Photo courtesy of Seton)

There is symmetry when it comes to Tiffany Tate and basketball. The most basic part of basketball is dribbling  -- the hand causing the ball to bound up and down.

Such has been the life of Tate, a standout basketball player at Chandler High when the new millennium arrived and a Seton Catholic girls basketball assistant coach the past 10 years. She's proven an adept ball handler in her playing days and even more so an expert life handler. She's had to taking on cystic fibrosis.

Unfortunately, this summer there has been a downturn in her battle. Tate, afflicted with the disease at birth, has met that challenge head on. A battle that's included two double-lung transplants. Four bouts with skin cancer. Three forays with esophageal cancer. The introduction of new lungs came with a cost as drugs are used to prevent rejection, but suppress the immune system. Trying to fight off cancer through radiation/chemotherapy eventually wreaks havoc on foreign organs. It computes to a no-win scenario.

The pain of losing Tate cannot overshadow the gratitude the Seton communiity and Seton head coach Karen Self have for Tate and her beating projections for life expectancy. Tiffany Tate has won - a longer life. Beaten life expectancy for her condition by perhaps a decade. What all evidence pointed to was a short duration which instead has been a life lesson for 35 years. To anyone who has come in contact with her - friend, fellow coaches, former teammates, basketball players with Seton, opposing players, doctors and nurses in her tenure at Seton.

"Tiff is legendary here," Self said, trying to keep composed during a 30-minute conversation about a friend and colleague she's known since she coached Tate at age 12.

As recently as Aug. 25 Tate was working with players on Saturdays honing skills. Labor Day weekend, the next weekend, Tate and husband, Kevin, opted for a weekend off. A staycation as Self termed it. On Sept. 4 Tate messaged Self she wasn't feeling good and having problems breathing. She was admitted to the hospital later that day. Tate is in palliative care at present. A wicked bounce of the ball in such a short time.

"Ever since I got the message she wasn't feeling good, things haven't gone well," Self said. "They were looking into seeing if an infection was the cause, but they couldn't find one. Her body is rejecting the lungs. She had chemo this summer to treat the cancer. It's a situation where there is nothing they can do. She needs five liters of oxygen to get by."

"I don't know how she's done it," Self said. "Growing up knowing you have a limited lifespan. Most of the rest of us haven't had to have to deal with that. I would think that would get to most people. Tiff's attacked it. She hasn't gone around it. She's gone at it, and obliterated it."

Although a slight person in stature, Tate has displayed a personality and will that's served her well in an excruciating fight.

"She's always been an intense, fiery, passionate person," Self said. "She's been exceptional at building bonds with our kids. It's amazing to watch."

Tate played at Chandler High at 70 percent lung capacity at best. She wanted to play after high school at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, but the needed fitness didn't allow. She turned to club coaching and mentoring with Self and Jennifer King as the Sentinels' brain trust.

In 2012, four years into assistant coaching, the need for an a lung transplant arrived. The rejection of the lungs began in less than two years. The day Seton won one of its recent girls hoops titles in 2014, Tate was desperately in need of the second transplant. She made it to Seton's game that day for a brief time.

Fortunately, a second transplant was available in June of 2014. Her lung capacity at that time was 9 percent. The transplant took although temporarily put marriage to Kevin Eckes on hold. Tate became Tiffany Tate-Eckes in November 2014.

Tate continued to do well all the way to this summer despite the intermittent battles with cancer. While Tate shied away from chemo most of the time, doctors encouraged it for the third skirmish with esophageal cancer as it was more severe than the first two.

"Things haven't gone well the last couple of weeks, and we're all a mess here," Self said. "Tiff is handling it better than the rest of us."

She always has by all accounts. And it's allowed countless people to know Tate and what she is all about. That's worth taking note of.

The Seton community has established a gofundme account for Tate and her family. To contribute here is the link: