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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Summitt's diagnosis sparks thoughts of one near and dear


My grandmother used to make the best hamburgers.

I don't know how she did it.

I don't know the spices she used.

I just know that she could stand over a skillet, throw some ground beef in there, sprinkle a little of this and a lot of that on top and, within minutes, the best hamburger ever was on a plate. Those things were so good. I remember telling her one time, back when I was too young to know this wasn't possible, that she should knock her fence down and turn the kitchen window into a drive-thru window.

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I figured folks would come from all around to get one of Grandmama Jewel's hamburgers. All she had to do was knock that fence down and get a cash register. We were gonna be rich.

Last time I saw her, she called me Bobby.

My name is not Bobby.

My name is Gary and my grandmother has dementia. And that's why it's tough to hear this news about Pat Summitt.

The Hall of Fame coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols is a college basketball icon. Summitt has always been sharp and tough and quick, but she has now been diagnosed with a disease that's going to rip, slowly but certainly, most of that away.

I know because my grandmother used to be sharp and tough and quick, too. Now she's in a nursing home, confused and helpless. She called me Bobby last time I saw her. I still don't know why.

Pat Summitt celebrates in 2008 after the Vols' most recent national title, her eighth. (Getty Images)  
Pat Summitt celebrates in 2008 after the Vols' most recent national title, her eighth. (Getty Images)  
But that's what dementia does.

It's cruel.

At least people with cancer know they're fighting cancer. People with dementia eventually lose most or all understanding of what they're up against, or they forget that they're even up against anything.

I can't speak to the disease across the board because I'm not a doctor, but I can tell you that my grandmother went from sharp and tough and quick to somebody who asks if I can take her home because her daddy wants her inside the house by the time the sun sets. Sometimes she's scared that if I don't take her home she's "gonna get a whippin'." Then I calm her down, tell her everything's fine, explain to her that she doesn't have to go home, that she should just relax and watch TV with me. Then she asks my name. Or she just calls me Bobby.

I can't imagine Pat Summitt that way.

She has more than 1,000 career victories and eight national titles.

She should be able to coach into her 70s, then sit back and reminisce about everything she has accomplished.

But what we learned on Tuesday is that, in all likelihood, that's not going to be the way Summitt's career concludes or life unfolds. She's 59 and battling early onset dementia.

At some point, almost certainly, she'll stop remembering lots of the things she has accomplished, which is tragic considering she has done so much that most of us will never be able to forget.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

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