Holly Springs High wrestling coach Nick Nosbisch wanted the last week of the regular season to be more about his athletes and less about him.
But his students wouldn’t let that happen. They were happy to have the teacher they call Coach Noz back on the gym’s sidelines.
Nosbisch, 28, hadn’t been with them for more than a month after he was diagnosed on Dec. 1 with a rare form of bile duct cancer, known as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. His cancer is Stage 4 and has spread to his lymph nodes, though not to other parts of his body.
He had to leave the team and his duties as a civics and economics teacher. Eleven days later, he was in surgery at UNC-Chapel Hill to get the malignant tumor removed.
He was back this week at Tuesday’s conference championship match against Cary – both teams were undefeated going in, but Cary won narrowly 33-26 – and Wednesday’s Senior Night match against Apex Friendship, both at Holly Springs.
“It meant everything to us,” senior Hunter Morton said. “Seeing him there was awesome. I know for me personally, there’s no one I’d rather have in my corner.”
When Nosbisch first joined Holly Springs High School out of college, he didn’t know many people in the area.
But in the last few months, the community has rallied around him, particularly now that he’s fighting cancer and experiencing costly medical bills.
As of Thursday afternoon, 568 people had donated more than $33,500 for his medical needs on a youcaring.com page, a crowdfunding site started by his mother, Denise Nosbisch, who teaches at Panther Creek High School. His father, Steven, is a JROTC teacher at Millbrook High.
Coworkers have donated their sick days to Nosbisch so he won’t have to return to the classroom until next fall. Longtime wrestling assistant Cole Long took over the head coaching duties.
Other wrestling programs, including Apex Friendship and Nosbisch’s alma mater Jack Britt in Fayetteville, have raised money to help cover his hospital bills and the next step, which is a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
“The support from the community has been huge,” Nick Nosbisch said. “Going through something like this, you really realize the impact you’ve had, so that’s been amazing for me.”
Nosbisch thought nothing of his checkup in late November, though he hadn’t felt quite right, and there was a yellowish tint around his eyes.
“The thing about bile duct cancer is there aren’t many symptoms of it,” said Melissa Nosbisch, Nick’s wife. “The most common symptom that people notice is jaundice. And really he didn’t have jaundice that bad, just a bit of yellowing around the eyes.”
But the doctors noticed some numbers were off in Nosbisch’s bloodwork, and a day later they had a diagnosis.
The American Cancer Society says about 8,000 people a year are diagnosed with bile duct cancer in the United States. It’s even more rare for someone of Nosbisch’s age. The average age of diagnosis is 70.
“It was really quick, and unexpected,” Nick Nosbisch said. “There was a cancerous tumor that had progressed. The good news was it was on the left side of my liver and it was operable. It was just something that started to make me feel kind of weird.”
Mentor to wrestlers
Nosbisch had just started his third season as head coach when he was diagnosed.
The first two seasons couldn’t have gone much better – a trip to the state 4A dual quarterfinals in 2015 and an East regional championship and state runner-up finish the next. One of his wrestlers became the first in school history to win an individual state title.
Nosbisch also won a national award from the Positive Coaching Alliance, presented to coaches who strive for success in competition while also helping teach their athletes important life lessons.
The news hit his team hard.
“There were a couple of times where I would look over and need some support, and he wouldn’t be there. I’d have to find it in myself to keep going,” Morton said. “For all of us, he’s a lot more than a head coach.”
Morton said students sometimes spend lunch with him, where they developed bonds that extend beyond the classroom and the gym.
“He’s a mix of a father figure, an older brother, a coach, a friend, he’s all that stuff,” Morton said. “Him having to go away, we definitely had to have a lot of growing pains. There were a lot of matches that we barely won.”
Many of them visited Nosbisch in the hospital or at his house. And Nosbisch made sure to get back to those who reached out.
“That was a big concern of mine,” he said. “I wanted to make sure the kids had an outlet where if they wanted to talk to me about something, they could. I’m pretty close to my guys on the team.”
Nosbisch set goals for himself, both with wrestling and work, to keep himself focused during his recovery. It was important to come to the Cary match and for Senior Night. It also showed he had regained some his strength following his surgery.
“Recovering from surgery can be tough,” Melissa Nosbisch said. “He’s been tired a lot, but he’s getting his energy back daily and wanting to do more and more things.”
At the Mayo Clinic, Nosbisch will undergo chemotherapy and other treatment to prevent the cancer from returning. He was accepted last month.
“I’m a competitor and I approach this as just a hurdle you’ve got to get through,” he said. “I’m going to continue to fight it.”
Outpouring of support
Holly Springs Athletic Director Rod Whitesell said raising money for Nosbisch is important, not just for monetary reasons but to show how many people care about him.
“The response you’ve seen from what’s gone on in the community – from the kids, from parents, from past parents who were here tonight shows how much he cares for his kids,” Whitesell said. “He hasn’t wanted it to be a big deal because he always wants it to be about the kids and the wrestlers, and I think that’s a testament to him. That’s why you hear such positive things about him – he puts kids first.”
Every day, he hears well wishes from someone.
“I’ve kind of learned that when you’re going through a tough time, people want to be able to help you and reach out, even if it’s something small,” Nosbisch said. “If you give someone that opportunity to help out, that makes a huge difference for you and for them.
“There have been some days when you really feel bad or down about yourself and having the support (helps out a lot),” he said. “Every day I get messages from somebody, and that’s uplifting to me. If anyone is going through a similar thing, just realize you may not know the impact you’ve had or how people really feel.”
Want to help?
Read more about Nick Nosbisch’s cancer journey at nozonegoalonewin.com. To donate, go to youcaring.com/nicknosbisch-739873.