NEW YORK — Between dashing for interviews with coaches and chatting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Holly Rowe was back in her element Thursday night. It was a welcome respite for ESPN's veteran sideline reporter nearly two years after her initial cancer diagnosis.
ESPN has ensured Rowe a spot on the sidelines for years to come with a contract extension — fortunate timing for Rowe, whose cancer has recently recurred and spread.
Rowe told The Associated Press on Thursday that she is again battling cancer, sharing the news hours after ESPN announced it had extended her contract.
"I don't think about having cancer when I'm out here," Rowe told the AP before tipoff of a WNBA game between Minnesota and New York, her first this season. "Monday, I have a CAT scan and have treatment. I'll be a cancer patient on Monday. I'm not thinking about it today."
Rowe was worried she'd be among those laid off by the network last month. Instead, she'll remain on the sidelines for college football, basketball, volleyball, softball and WNBA games. She'll also keep her health insurance, which has been a vital tool in her fight against melanoma.
"I was really grateful because my contract was up in April," she said. "It would have been so easy for me to be one of those people. For me to have health insurance right now will save my life financially. This is helping me in my recovery. If this had been taken away, it would have been really hard for me."
Rowe has been with the network for two decades, and ESPN on Thursday ran a first-person piece about her experience working through her diagnosis. ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said the network was lucky to have Rowe sticking around.
"Holly's energy and yearlong dedication to ESPN is a testament to her strength and resiliency all while courageously battling cancer over the last 16 months," Fitting said. "She is beloved by her peers, coaches and athletes that she interacts with daily and her creativity and professionalism on everything she touches shines through on our coverage."
Rowe has remained among the network's most recognizable faces, and even since getting sick, she's been on-air for some of its biggest broadcasts. She was there when Morgan William hit the shot to end UConn's winning streak at the Final Four. She interviewed Clemson receiver Hunter Renfow moments after his last-second TD catch to win the national championship.
"She is a genuine person and has a natural curiosity about people, which leads to her being great at her job," said ESPN announcer Rebecca Lobo, who has worked with Rowe for years at the women's Final Four. "And she keeps me laughing constantly with her fashion advice and dancing tips."
Rowe was honored last month by the Cancer Support Community with their Founders Award for Empowerment. She was presented the award by former Vice President Joe Biden.
"It was a total surprise and such an honor to meet him," Rowe said.
With her most recent diagnosis, Rowe is due for treatment every 21 days while trying a new immunotherapy. She'll continue to work the sidelines, though, and wouldn't have it any other way.
"I recently had five days in a row off," Rowe said. "That's a long stretch. I was a mess, I was sitting around thinking about having cancer. It's ridiculous. I've got to stay busy or I'll go crazy. This is the world's best therapy. Every single day I'm working, I'm absorbed in other people. Somebody wins. I need to see people winning and fighting through adversity. That helps me so much."
Rowe was first diagnosed with cancer after noticing a small spot on her chest. It turned out to be a big tumor under her skin.
May is melanoma awareness month, and Rowe wants to let people know that they should get checked regularly.
"When in doubt, check it out and cover up. There's no suntan in the world worth what I'm going through right now," she said. "Wear long sleeves and cover up."