UNC Basketball: Stage four cancer survivor gets bucket list wish granted, attends game

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 03: The North Carolina Tar Heels bench watches a three-point attempt by Cameron Johnson
CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 03: The North Carolina Tar Heels bench watches a three-point attempt by Cameron Johnson /

North Carolina fan battling stage four cancer attends rivalry game

The rivalry between Duke and North Carolina is one that has gone on for years, and is commonly referred to as the greatest in college basketball. Some even claim that it’s the best rivalry among college athletics, and others go so far as to tout it as the best in all of sports.

And the generations-long history between the two schools means different things to different people.

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For some, it’s just good TV on a Thursday night. And for others, it’s a healthy rivalry among coworkers, neighbors or relatives that lends itself to office banter or a heated exchange at Sunday dinner.

There are those, too, who have nothing but hatred for the opposition, believing that empathy is simply a sign of weakness or lack of allegiance to one’s chosen side.

And then there is Anthony “Tony” Leonard, a 45-year-old Fayetteville resident and North Carolina fan who’s battling stage four stomach cancer. Leonard’s wish was to see a Duke-North Carolina game from inside the Smith Center.

He got his wish on Thursday night.

As part of the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation, Leonard was gifted six tickets to the game by a member of the university’s Ram’s Club. He and his wife, along with four of their five sons, attended the first of two meetings between the age-old rivals.

They ate dinner at Franklin Street favorite Top of the Hill before visiting the Carolina Basketball Museum and meeting Tar Heel legend Eric Montross. Then they watched the game from the stands of a sold out Smith Center.

Leonard was first diagnosed with cancer in 2012, but pronounced cancer-free in 2017. Shortly after, he was alerted that the cancer had returned, and spread to his lymph nodes and a number of organs.

Leonard and his doctors have taken measures to slow the cancer down, including the removal of the infected organs, and he continues his battle with the dreaded disease one day at a time.

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At least for one night, though, he was able to push the worries to the back of his mind and enjoy the team that he loves with the people he loves.