It was Thanksgiving Day a year ago when I felt the phone buzz in my pocket.

I’m a big one for believing there is time for phones, and time for being without phones.

Despite the normally overriding rule of giving family time my time, I knew I had to answer this one.

He was in trouble

It was a text from my very close friend, Duke Maas.

“They had to put me in EAMC,” he said referring to East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika. “Not doing too well.”

Duke, once one of the best sports editors in the country, had his cancer back.

He thought he’d licked it, more than once, in years past. But here again in his late 60s, the ugly little monster returned with vengeance.

I made one more round of hugs with all the family, and since we were at my sister’s house in Opelika, it wasn’t a long drive to the hospital. On the way, I remembered how my friendship with Duke began.

Duke moved to the Still Waters community on Lake Martin, south of Dadeville, after having a highly respected career that included time spent as the executive editor of The Tampa Tribune, among senior stints at several other notable newsrooms around the country in big cities and small. He worked with and wrote about many of the best athletes in the world.

He thought he was coming to Lake Martin and his beloved Sardis Methodist Church to retire, until I found out about him.

It wasn’t long before I convinced him to join our team on the Opelika-Auburn News as a coach for our young journalists, and immediately he and I became close friends.

Duke was healthy and excited about living a life of travel and leisure and ministry with his wife during their retirement, which he assured me would come only one year away after somewhat reluctantly working again.

He had a daughter who worked in the athletics department at Auburn, and so, he thought, why not take the job for a year.

Months later: I got to the hospital room and at first glance, saw that he was in trouble.

His skin was yellow, he’d lost more weight, and he no longer talked of travel plans.

“God’s calling me home soon,” he bravely told me.

And so He did.

Duke managed to enjoy one more Christmas with his family, and passed away soon after.

He was my friend.

Locker room talk

We all have similar stories, and that’s a sad fact.

We all hate cancer, and that should serve well the call for unity in fighting it.

Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl is giving us locally a chance to get on the national stage this week with not just a bigtime game of Auburn vs. Kentucky, but also with his AUTLIVE Cancer program.

Many readers may remember the columns I’ve penned in the past about my father and his own fight with cancer and a rare blood disease.

After 17 surgeries with some of the best surgeons in the world, Dad was blessed to slowly but surely begin a physical recovery.

What we did not plan for in our fight, however, was the depression that settled in after he realized the many operations and medicines had taken their toll on his well-being and ability to do what he could do beforehand.

It was a call from Bruce Pearl that changed all of that. “Coach Turner, this isn’t just about you anymore,” Bruce told him. “You’ve got to fight this for your family. They need you and you can’t give up on them, so get back in the game.”

Bruce has a way with words, if you haven’t noticed.

But it worked. That first call led to many others, and in the AUTLIVE spirit of battling cancer, Bruce had a direct role in helping my father come back to life in the way I knew him from before.

Get in the game;

here's your role:

So here we are again, the week of the AUTLIVE Cancer game, and here’s how you can be involved.

First, go by the team store inside Auburn Arena or to autlive.com and buy a $25 T-shirt. ALL of the money goes directly to agencies charged with carefully selecting needy families who desperately require help in the many, many expenses associated with getting cancer treatment for a loved one.

My family can relate to these needs, as most often motel costs, gas, food and many other expenses quickly take their toll, and it’s tough enough for someone to fight cancer, let alone have to do it alone because family members can’t afford to be there.

Also, for those among the nearly 10,000 who will attend the game, there will be orange placards handed out as you enter, with Sharpie pens available. Students will find them in their seats in the student section.

There will be a blank spot for you to fill in the name of whom you want to dedicate your AUTLIVE Cancer placard, and immediately at the start of halftime, there will be a moment of dedication in which everyone in attendance will stand in silence and hold up their cards, with cameras panning the crowd.

For those who witnessed it last year, it was a moving experience, and no doubt the same will be there for this crowd.

Also at Saturday’s game, free PSA tests for men over 40 years of age will be provided on the concourse prior to game time, to test for prostate cancer. It involves taking a blood sample. I hope to be the first in line.

Finally, you are welcome to pen your own “letter to the editor” regarding your personal thoughts in support of the AUTLIVE Cancer effort. Send them to opinion@oanow.com and put AUTLIVE in the subject line.

Don’t sit idle

Let’s fight together to AUTLIVE this terrible disease.

For Duke, Dad, your loved ones…and maybe even you someday.

We can do this, folks. We can.

Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News and can be contacted at tturner@oanow.com and followed on Twitter @troyturnernews.

Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He can be contacted at tturner@oanow.com and followed on Twitter @troyturnernews.

Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He previously served as the news editor in New York for the nation's second largest newspaper company, and as the senior editor at several other news entities around the nation. He is an Auburn alum.

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