Linebacker Sacks Ewing’s Sarcoma


Because of his passion for the game of football, Herzlich passed on the surgery and began a grueling seven-month routine of chemo and radiation.

Ewing’s Sarcoma (“ES”) is a very rare and highly aggressive form of bone cancer that forms from a certain kind of cell in bone or soft tissue surrounding the bone. It occurs most often in adolescents, especially boys ages 10 to 20, and is the second most common primary bone tumor (originating in bone cells) in children. ES accounts for only one percent of all childhood cancers and, although it can strike an individual at any age, its occurrence in adults older
than 30 is exceedingly rare.

ES tumors are normally found in the bones of the arms and legs, or in the bones of the back or head as well as in the chest, trunk, or pelvis. If detected early enough, before it metastasizes and spreads to other organs, ES can be treated successfully in half to three quarters of cases.

The American Cancer Society reports that, with current treatment, the overall five year survival rate for patients
with Ewing tumors that are still localized when they are first found is around 70 percent. When the cancer has already spread when it is diagnosed, the five-year survival rate is about 15 percent to 30 percent. The survival rate is slightly better if the cancer has only spread to the lungs as opposed to having reached other organs.


Mark Herzlich, now age 27, was a 6’ 4”, 244-pound star linebacker at Boston College (coincidentally, the alma mater of your beloved columnist), when he was diagnosed with ES in his left thigh bone in May of 2009. He had just finished a season with the BC Eagles in which he was named the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Defensive
Player of the Year with 110 tackles and six interceptions in his junior year at BC. Herzlich announced the
diagnosis in a May 14, 2009 press release in which he stated: “Obviously, I was shocked. I had been extremely focused on preparing for my senior season at Boston College and for life beyond that. Now, I must channel
all that energy into facing my toughest opponent yet, and that is exactly what I will do… At this point, I do not know what this means for my football future, but I am determined to rid my body of this disease so that I can put that
uniform back on. Thank you in advance for your prayers and concern. Together, we will fight this and win.” Herzlich’s medical options were limited, and the choices he was confronted with frightening. His dream of a career in
the NFL seemed unattainable.


After a biopsy confirmed ES, Herzlich began a regimen of aggressive chemotherapy which fortunately shrunk his
tumor dramatically. He was then given a choice: either opt for surgery in which a 12-inch portion of the cancerous thigh bone would be removed and replaced with a cadaver bone, or continue with the aggressive chemo and radiation therapy. The first option was the course most often taken by ES patients because of its success in eliminating the cancer. The second option, however, resulted in a similar outcome only 40 percent to 50 percent of the time.

Herzlich consulted with the doctors and others who had faced a similar choice. He was told the surgery offered the best odds of removing the cancer, but would most likely mean his football career was over. Because of his passion for the game of football, Herzlich passed on the surgery and began a grueling seven-month routine of chemo and radiation, often involving radiation treatment in the morning, chemo in the afternoon, followed by radiation again six hours later. This treatment program required him to give himself injections in his stomach and to take a host of different medications.


Herzlich’s gamble paid off. Although the ES caused him to sit out the entire 2009 college football season, on October 3, 2009, he publicly announced that he was cancer free and that the determination had been confirmed by his doctors. And though he was not picked in the 2011 NFL Draft, on July 26, 2011, he was signed as an undrafted free
agent by the NY Giants and made his first NFL start against the Philadelphia Eagles the following November.
Herzlich received numerous awards and commendations for overcoming cancer and sharing his battle with the public, including the Rudy Award, the ACC Brian Piccolo Award, the Disney Wide World of Sport Spirit Award,
the Nils V. “Swede” Nelson Award, and the “”Most Courageous Athlete” Award from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association. •

Linebacker Sacks Ewing’s Sarcoma
Because of his passion for the game of football, Herzlich passed on the surgery and began a grueling seven-month routine of chemo and radiation.
This column has a simple purpose, but a difficult goal: discuss issues that affect the lives, well-being and state of mind of those who must live and cope with a disability, and do so in a humorous way. This isn’t an easy thing to do, since there’s certainly nothing funny or humorous about being disabled, or in the difficulties and obstacles that
those with chronic disabilities encounter daily. However, I’ve personally found that humor has to a great extent helped me cope with my disability (I’ve had Multiple Sclerosis for 45 years and use a wheelchair), and I hope this column helps others in the disabled community do so as well.

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