Patient Care

Coping with Cancer: Webster Football Coach Practices What He Preaches

Sep. 20, 2023
Webster football coach Scott Deuschle standing on the field with players behind him
Webster Thomas Head Football Coach Scott Deuschle

Scott Deuschle has been a high school football coach for 27 years, so words like “grit” and “perseverance” are part of his lingo with the players. During the past year, as Deuschle coped with cancer, the words became more personal.

After complex surgery in 2022 and daily radiation treatment for seven weeks combined with chemotherapy, for head-and-neck cancer, Deuschle found himself unable to eat. He lost more than 40 pounds. Doctors wanted to give him a feeding tube, but he refused.

Deuschle drew on his strength and forced himself to consume nutrients—his wife, Debbie, made all kinds of pureed concoctions—despite being very sick and having taste buds that were “fried” due to radiation therapy.

“I did everything I could to fight through it,” Deuschle says. “I was in survival mode at that time and I was just fighting the demons.”

As he tells his story at Webster Thomas High School one recent afternoon, the football team is practicing behind him, showing their own grit on the field. It’s an intense 90 degrees outside—a rare September heat wave in Rochester—but all is well. Deuschle says this is exactly where he wants to be.

“Lots of people told me to retire,” says the 55-year-old Webster resident, who has been coaching in the school district since 1996 and at Thomas since 2001. “They said, ‘Go and enjoy life!’ But this is what I enjoy.”

On Sept. 22, Thomas plays rival Webster Schroeder High School at 7 pm at Schroeder, and the community is doing a fundraiser at the game to benefit the Wilmot Cancer Institute, where Deuschle was treated. Organizers include Deuschle, the Webster Thomas Booster Club, Schroeder coach Mike Stumpf and his staff, and the Schroeder Booster Club. Last year, a similar event took place and raised more than $1,100 for Wilmot.

“I had a great team at Wilmot—100%,” Deuschle says. “You feel beaten down every time you walk in that door but they are smiling.”

He recalls, for example, the “freaky” experience of having to wear a “Hannibal Lecter”- type mask to keep his head and neck steady during radiation therapy. The technician would joke with him—“think of it as a spa treatment”—and play his favorite music.

Deuschle has a clean bill of health now and, with close monitoring by his oncologist, Megan Baumgart, M.D., he’s enjoying life like never before. In addition to Baumgart, he wants to acknowledge other members of his care team, including surgeon Joel Fontanarosa, M.D., Ph.D.; radiation oncologist Michael Cummings, M.D.; physician assistant, Allison Gunderson, PA-C, who lives in Webster; and all of the nurses and staff at Wilmot involved in his care. He also received emotional support from a close friend, Luis Ruffolo, M.D., a surgical resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center and former Webster Thomas football team captain who played for Deuschle, and later worked as a Webster coach. 

Throughout his ordeal, Deuschle and his wife have reconnected with old friends, he saw his first grandchild come into the world, and he is basking in the fact that so many former players, parents, and community members have reached out to cheer him on.

“You realize how impactful you’ve been,” Deuschle says. “I’m really taking time to enjoy the small things in life. Take a breath and live in the moment.”