Portland High School boys' basketball coach Joe Russo works with players during a recent practice. The five-time state champion coach is returning for his 29th season after his cancer went into remission. Credit: CBS 13

Longtime Portland High School boys’ basketball coach Joe Russo has five state championships on his resume, but he said he wasn’t sure if he’d get a chance at a sixth.

“In February, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be here or not,” he told CBS 13’s Dave Eid. “Especially that first day, when [the doctor] said, ‘You’ve got stage 4 lymphoma.’”

A bump on his hip and pain in his jaw led to the cancer diagnosis about 10 months ago, CBS 13 reported. Russo underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy.

“There were days where my immune system was so low I had to go to the hospital for a week at a time,” said Russo, who is now heading into his 29th season coaching the Bulldogs after the treatments drove his cancer into remission. “Emotionally, I was just so drained that I couldn’t comprehend. I couldn’t think. I was in a fog, and that was the scariest part.”

The coach told Eid prayers and well wishes from supporters helped motivate him to fight the disease. He said now he gets checked every three months to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned, and the ordeal has put basketball into perspective.

“I’m actually enjoying it more,” he told Eid. “I’ll do the best I can to help them be successful. But it’s just pure pleasure. I enjoy every day with them. Even when I yell at them, I tell them I love them and that tomorrow is a new day.”

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Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.