Chris Mortensen’s statement sounded all too familiar. Even the headline on the ESPN.com was one I had written before.
The words “taking break to treat throat cancer” are eerily similar to the ones that capped a column I penned in October 2012. That it’s the same kind of cancer only hammered home the point.
The renowned ESPN personality who specializes in outstanding NFL coverage announced he has a Stage 4 diagnosis and is stepping away from his duties to fight the disease. So, for the next several weeks, we won’t see Mortensen doing his thing on ESPN.
The timing, coinciding with the playoffs of the sport he covers, is probably driving him crazy. By all appearances, he is a battler, and I am sure Mortensen, who served in Vietnam, is ready for the challenge.
Even his words of gratitude for the support he is receiving at ESPN rang a bell for me. I wrote basically the same thing in my aforementioned column about everything the folks at the Daily Record/Sunday News and GameTimePA.com were doing for me during my fight with cancer.
There’s no doubt “Mort” is getting an incredible outpouring of support by peers, sports fans and athletes throughout the U.S. and beyond. And that is a great thing because it means a lot. I am still amazed at the amount of support I received from sports fans, coaches, athletes and families.
Heck, I still get it a full three years after my battle. Rarely do I see someone in the York County sports community that doesn’t ask me how I am feeling. “How is your health?” has become the go-to question for many when they see me.
My answer is usually the same: I am fine. I have been cancer-free for some time, and my checkup regimen is down to once every eight months, which feels great.
Sure, some things will likely never be back to normal. I cough a lot, and there are a few foods that I still have trouble swallowing. Then there is my voice, which never fully recovered and can be downright terrible at times.
Of course, these are minor things, my badges for beating cancer. I’ll take them.
The key for me has been love, from my family, friends, peers and a community.
While going through treatments, I lost the ability to swallow. I also had complications caused by the tumor sitting on my gag reflex. I couldn’t even keep down anything I put in my feeding tube.
I lost weight — a lot of weight, more than 70 pounds. I knew I looked bad, but had no idea how bad. In my mind I wasn’t going to die, so I never realized that my appearance had some thinking I might not make it.
Now that I am well — and gained nearly all of the weight back (too much in fact) — people are being honest with how bad I looked. It’s made for some lively conversation.
At dinner one night, my wife’s sister and brother-in-law confessed that their family tried to figure out how to move my wife and kids into their house in case I died.
How about that for a kick to the head?
Yet, in all honestly, it’s a great thing. It’s another example of how much people care. Believe me, I know that had the worst thing happened, my wife and kids would have been well cared for.
In a strange way, all of this made me appear tougher than I really am. To this day, people tell me how inspiring I was during my fight, yet I’m not so sure about that. All I did was listen to doctors, get treatments, rest a lot and relish being part of a community that cared so much.
I am a better person in so many ways for having cancer. My hope is that Chris Mortensen will be, too. He’s had NFL stars reaching out to him, including one — the ever-classy Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona — who even did it during a postgame interview.
While that’s pretty cool, I wouldn’t trade it for what so many in York and Adams Counties did for me.
Thanks and love to all.