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'I'm Sick and I'm Scared'
Lyle Alzado
July 08, 1991
The author, a former NFL star, has a dread disease that he blames on his use of performance-enhancing drugs
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July 08, 1991

'i'm Sick And I'm Scared'

The author, a former NFL star, has a dread disease that he blames on his use of performance-enhancing drugs

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I lied. I lied to you. I lied to my family. I lied to a lot of people for a lot of years when I said I didn't use steroids. I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969, and I never stopped. Not when I retired from the NFL in 1985. Not ever. I couldn't, and then I made things worse by using human growth hormone, too. I had my mind set, and I did what I wanted to do. So many people tried to talk me out of what I was doing, and I wouldn't listen. And now I'm sick. I've got cancer—a brain lymphoma—and I'm in the fight of my life.

Everyone knows me as a tough, tough guy. And I've never been afraid of anything. Not any human, not anything. Then I woke up in the hospital last March and they told me, "You have cancer." Cancer. I couldn't understand it. All I knew was that I was just so weak. I went through all those wars on the football field. I was so muscular. I was a giant. Now I'm sick. And I'm scared.

It wasn't worth it. Sure, I played 15 years as a defensive end with the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Raiders and twice made All-Pro. But look at me now. I wobble when I walk and sometimes have to hold on to somebody. You have to give me time to answer questions, because I have trouble remembering things. I'm down to 215 pounds, 60 pounds less than I weighed just a few months ago, and I've got to grow back into my pants, they're so baggy. I've been in chemotherapy at the UCLA Medical Center and have done pretty well. I haven't thrown up or anything yet, but I don't have any hair and I wear a scarf on my head. The other day my wife, Kathy, and I drove into a gas station, and a guy there started making fun of my scarf. My "hat," he called it. I wanted to beat him up, but Kathy reminded me I wasn't strong enough. She said I'd have to wait until I get better.

I'm 42 years old. I have a nine-year-old son, Justin, who lives with his mother, Cindy, in New York. Kathy, who's a fashion model, and I were married last March, and we live in West Los Angeles. I got sick and went into the hospital two days after the wedding. And it was a few days later I found out I had cancer.

I know there's no written, documented proof that steroids and human growth hormone caused this cancer. But it's one of the reasons you have to look at. You have to. And I think that there are a lot of athletes in danger. So many of them have taken this same human growth hormone, and so many of them are on steroids. Almost everyone I know. They are so intent on being successful that they're not concerned with anything else. No matter what an athlete tells you, I don't care who, don't believe them if they tell you these substances aren't widely used. Ninety percent of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We're not born to be 280 or 300 pounds or jump 30 feet. Some people are born that way, but not many, and there are some 1,400 guys in the NFL.

When I was playing high school football in Cedarhurst, N.Y., I hadn't heard about steroid use by anybody. It wasn't until I got to college when I realized that, even though I'd been high school All-America, that wasn't enough to make it as a football player. I didn't have the size. I had the speed but not the size. I went to Kilgore College, a J.C. in Texas, and my speed enhanced my progress, but my size didn't. Then I went to Yankton College in South Dakota, the only school that would accept me. I realized I wasn't even big enough for a small school like that, so I started taking steroids. I don't remember now where I got them or how I even heard about them, but I know I started on Dianabol, about 50 milligrams a day.

The Dianabol was very easy to get, even in those days. Most athletes go to a gym for their steroids, and I think that's what I did. I remember a couple of weeks later someone mentioned how my biceps seemed to look bigger. I was so proud. I was lifting weights so much that the results were pretty immediate and dramatic. I went from 190 pounds to 220 by eating a lot, and then I went up to about 300 pounds from the steroids. People say that steroids can make you mean and moody, and my mood swings were incredible. That's what made me a football player, my moods on the field.

As I progressed, I changed steroids whenever I felt my body building a tolerance to what I was taking. It's hard to remember all the names now. I studied them a little. And I mixed combinations like a chemist. You had to take them both orally and inject them, mostly into your butt so no one would see the marks. I always gave myself injections at home in my bedroom. I got pretty good at it. I kept the steroids in my dresser.

My first year with the Broncos was 1971. I was like a maniac. I outran, outhit, outanythinged everybody, and I made the team after Pete Duranko got hurt in a preseason game against the Chicago Bears. I took his place. All along I was taking steroids, and I saw that they made me play better and better. I kept on because I knew I had to keep getting more size. I became very violent on the field. Off it, too. I did things only crazy people do. Once in 1979 in Denver a guy side-swiped my car, and I chased him up and down hills through the neighborhoods. I did that a lot. I'd chase a guy, pull him out of his car, beat the hell out of him.

We had such a defense in Denver, especially that Super Bowl year, 1977. I can't say if anybody else on the Broncos was on the stuff, but because I was, I have to think some of the others were. But I wasn't liked on the team, so I really didn't know what was going on.

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