Herzlich battling toughest opponent: cancer (cont.)
I am 12 years old and I met you at the spring game. You signed my shoe and it is hanging on my wall in my room and I look at it and pray for you every night.
His numbers were staggering: nine tackles (one for a loss) and three pass breakups. It was a sunny day on April 25 for BC's spring game, and Herzlich pounced on opposing quarterbacks and running backs like a maroon and gold panther. "You get guys crying over stubbed toes," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill McGovern said. "Mark missed three practices and got four A's and a B on his report card with cancer."
A week earlier, Herzlich, feeling pain in his legs, wasn't sure he'd suit up. During the offseason he had been in and out of doctors' offices since BC's loss to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl. No prognosis was made. He limped through sprints and moved like an old man on the field. "You expect to break a leg or blow out a knee," he said. "Never cancer."
Discomfort developed inside Herzlich's femur bone three days after the spring game. There was swelling, but no bruising. His mother scheduled doctors appointments for the second week of May, when his academic exams would be over. On May 10, the night before they were to visit with doctors, his mother asked her husband, Sandon, "What if it's cancer?"
He tried to assuage her fears, but she grew emotional. The visit with the orthopedist included an MRI. Curious of what it might reveal, she pulled the doctor into a side examination room and asked: "If this is cancer, would it show up on an MRI?"
"Yes," he said, "but it's highly unlikely."
"Good," she said, smiling, "that's what I wanted to hear."
When she returned into the room, her son asked, "What did you just talk about?"
"If I wanted you to know," she said. "I would have said it in front of you."
The family drove to a pain specialist next. While they were in the car afterward, the orthopedist called Herzlich's cell phone and asked for his mother. Sitting in the front passenger seat, he handed the phone back to her. The MRI detected fluid typically related to a tumor. The rare form of cancer had disguised itself. The doctor had already called ahead to an oncologist. They were to meet with him immediately. "You get hot and cold all over," his mother said of hearing the news. "You can't breathe. It's a shutdown that you don't wish on anyone."
That night Herzlich shared the news with his best friend, Zack Migeot, whom he had known and carpooled with since grammar school. More friends and teammates received text messages over the next 24 hours. Coaches heard from his father via phone while out on the recruiting trail.
The next day Herzlich underwent a biopsy and a bone scan. Kevin Mahoney, a family friend who is a senior vice president with Penn Medicine, stopped by his room at Pennsylvania Hospital. Herzlich was reading a book as his feet hung over the edge. "You don't expect to see Superman like that," Mahoney said.
Chemo sessions soon crowded the calendar. "He'll be an annoying S.O.B. in the chemo room," McGovern said when he heard about the treatments. "The nurse will hear about our Fire Zone and Cover Two."
I was playing volleyball in college when I, too, was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma. I am now 44 years old, living at the beach ...
When he was 15, Herzlich was ready to quit football as a freshman at Conestoga (Berwyn, Pa.) High. During the season's penultimate contest against Radnor High, he played uninspired. His father -- as he had since the days he coached him with the youth league Marsh Creek Eagles -- attended the game. After the loss, he met with his son in the family's upstairs den. "I know you're a way better player than you're showing," he said. "If you continue to not try I won't come anymore."
The next game Herzlich had 10 tackles. "I wanted it again," he said.