Editor’s Note: September is traditionally one month of the year set aside to heighten men’s awareness of cancer prevention. In line with its mission to educate cancer survivors about preventing cancer recurrence or second cancers, this September CancerForward features “Five Fellas Forward,” a series highlighting the cancer survivorship of five men whose journeys with cancer have grabbed global attention. Their stories serve to encourage all men to make cancer prevention a priority in their lives.
In the usual still time leading up to the start of the 2012 New York Giants pre-season training, Mark Herzlich was anything but still. The second-year pro linebacker who earlier this year grabbed himself a Super Bowl ring worked out four days a week until he and the Giants squad reported to camp late this summer. Herzlich’s eyes were on a new job: holding the middle linebacker position when the Giants opened NFL’s 2012 regular season on September 5 in a game against the Dallas Cowboys. He made the cut when the Giants pared their squad from 75 players to 53 for the regular season opener.
Three years after his diagnosis with Ewing’s sarcoma, Mark Herzlich has beat all odds that cancer would hold him down. He tackled cancer, waited through an NFL lockout, signed with the Giants as a free agent, made the team’s final 53 man roster that took the spoils at Super Bowl XLVI and took his spot on the roster again for his second season.
BSM: Mark, few men are more inspiring to cancer survivors than you. Thanks for taking off time during training camp to share your story with our readers. How is your health today? It would appear you have no restrictions. Is that the case?
MH: Beth, my health is good, and my leg feels fine in terms of cancer. Everything is kind of in the past. I don’t have any restrictions right now. I’m feeling better, faster, and stronger than I did last year. It’s all positive! Thanks for asking.
BSM: What was the most difficult facet of living with your cancer? Was it the physical limitation?
MH: The most difficult part of living with the cancer was a mental thing, thinking that things were limited for me. The physical limitations were tough, too. Obviously I wanted to get on the field and play football, and be out with my friends, but feeling sick all the time was no fun either. Being unsure about my future health in terms of the future of the sport I love…I think that was probably the most difficult part for me mentally.
BSM: Did you get depressed because of your cancer, and if so, how did you handle the down times?
MH: I did get depressed a little bit because of my cancer, mostly because I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be and had always dreamed I could be. Once I was diagnosed and started my treatments, I wasn’t as depressed. I became more motivated to beat it. Before I knew exactly what was wrong with me, it was that weird lingering pain in my leg that no one could really diagnose…that was probably the biggest reason I was depressed.
BSM: What did you learn from your journey with cancer?
MH: I learned that anything is possible. Anytime I go out there on that field…or in any aspect of my life…I really have a positive attitude. I try to always have the mindset that things are going to work out and be possible. If you look at the other side, and you don’t have faith, and you don’t have that dedication to succeed, you’ll slip into failure.
BSM: Okay, the tweet read ‘round the world:
“2 yrs ago I was told I might never walk again. Just WALKED off plane in Indy to play in The #SuperBowl. #TakeThatSh*tCancer.”
At the instant you pounded out those 123 characters, were you aware of the power of your words to millions of cancer survivors and their families via Twitter?
MH: When I made that tweet, it was just something that came to mind as I was getting off the plane and saw the media. There was a little red carpet leading from the plane to the busses. I was just thinking how cool it was to be at the Super Bowl. Walking down the stairs from the airplane was when I realized that some people thought I would never walk down those stairs. To the contrary, I was getting to play and be a part of the biggest game in sports.
BSM: To cancer survivors, what do you hope you stand for today and what do you hope your legacy will be?
MH: I think what I stand for is hope. What I can show other cancer survivors and people battling cancer is that there is more to life than what you do everyday. Beating cancer is something that you should be very proud of. Also, I stand for a story to give them hope: if I was able to do it — getting back to playing professional football, playing at the highest level, playing at the Super Bowl – then they can get back to doing those things that they love as well.