Mark Herzlich has heard the tragic clichés.
(Insert name here) lost their battle with cancer ...
After a valiant fight (he/she)succumbed to the disease...
After a (time frame) they couldn't go on anymore.
|A bout with cancer can't keep Mark Herzlich off the field forever. (AP)|
"I don't think anyone tries to live more than anyone else," Boston College's senior linebacker said. "People's bodies can react differently to the medicine ... I had something I really wanted. I really wanted to be a football player."
Actually football was No. 2 on the list. The No. 1 priority in May 2009 was to live. That's when doctors discovered cancer in Herzlich's left femur. Up until then, it had manifested itself only as pain. Herzlich thought it was football-related and gutted it out through spring practice.
Before treatment even began, doctors told him he was lucky as hell. Had there been so much as a stress fracture, the cancer would have poured out of his bone and entered his bloodstream.
"And," Herzich said, "I would die."
Actually the survival rate is 10 percent but the doctors had made their point. The irony is that Herzlich has rid his body of cancer and now is sidelined with a broken right foot. Aggressive chemo and radiation beat down the tumor. Doctors inserted that titanium rod in November to stabilize the leg. The broken foot happened some time prior to fall camp. The cancer and foot are unrelated. Herzlich is scheduled for an MRI on Friday and could be back at practice on Saturday. Either way, he is a heck of a lot closer to the Sept. 4 opener vs. Weber State.
It's definitely better than 15 months ago. Herzlich was on his bed, staring at the ceiling in the hours after his diagnosis. There was no bargaining with God, just some very fervent requests.
"When you talk about religion it goes either way," he said. "You can say, 'There is no God. Why would God do this to me,' or you go the other way and start praying a lot more. I prayed for two things, that I'd get cured of cancer and that I'd play football again."
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Call it even. Herzlich, it seems, will play football again. The Ewing's sarcoma that struck him is a type of cancer that affects one in 600,000 people. Herzlich wasn't drinking or smoking. The only abuse to his body was smashing it against ball carriers. In 2008, he was the ACC's defensive player of the year. By the next May doctors told him he would never play football again.
In this year of the comeback, Herzlich could be the keynote speaker at the team banquet. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder has recovered from a shoulder injury to lead a program that could use a comeback. Michigan, Miami and Notre Dame would like to return to former glory. Ten months after a serious neck injury, Auburn defensive back Zac Etheridge participated in a Saturday scrimmage.
Herzlich took stock of that comeback landscape. Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi came back from a stroke. Lance Armstrong beat cancer to win all those Tour de Frances -- supposedly legitimately. Willis McGahee came back from a shot for the ages.
"I looked at those guys for inspiration. I said, 'Why not me?'" Herzlich said.
The next goal is actually taking a hit on the leg. If it breaks, that could be it -- end of career.
"If it does break, it will have a very hard time healing," Herzlich said before brightening. "I guess the only question is: How many times the quarterback can throw the ball at me so I can see how many picks I get."
The battle is not over. Cancer's insidious grip is not fully released. Herzlich will have to go in every few months for checkups. His days, though, are filled with reminders that his life is changed forever. He is an inspiration for those who continue to fight cancer. There are colored bands around his wrist adorned with initials and sayings that remind him of his other life.
"PUSH", Pray Until Something Happens
"Team Mark Herzlich", which was given to him by a former athlete whose dad had battled cancer.
Another says "Uplifting Athletes."
Mark Herzlich knows he is lucky to be here to talk about all of them, all of it. No one tries to live more than anyone else. Sometimes you battle, you work, you hope and you survive.