Up Yours Cancer: The Journey of Mark Herzlich

Tonight, Super Bowl XLVI  will feature a survivor against a battle of steep odds….New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich (#58), who has overcome an extremely rare form of cancer to play on the big stage.


The Passion for the Game is Born

Born in 1987, Herzlich was talented enough to excel in the game he adored the most – football. Even during his days at Conestoga High School in Tredyffrin Township, Pennsylvania, Herzlich excelled as a senior linebacker. By 2008, Herzlich made news as one of the most promising defensive players at Boston College, eventually being nominated for both the Lott Trophy and Butkus Award, and winning the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Although he was a highly rated pro prospect, Herzlich decided to return to the Eagles for his junior college season in 2009. However, while working out in the offseason, Herzlich found that he had a much bigger opponent to face than those he found on the football field. Herzlich discovered on May 14, 2009, that he was had Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. The diagnosis revealed that cancer had invaded his left leg, making his football future and even his life outlook appear bleak. Herzlich announced that he had bone cancer in a press release. He ended the statement in a positive note stating that, ‘Together, we will fight this and win.”

Up Against the Odds

Herzlich had a tough journey ahead. However, by then he made up his mind to battle it out with all his might so that he could get back onto the football field again. The dream of playing football gave him high hopes and guided him through his voyage against cancer. His head-on battle with the disease and doctors’ prognosis gave him in three scenarios that he might encounter in his future course with the disease:
First was the worst scenario, which would occur if the disease would spread to the other parts of his body. A second scenario would result if he were to suffer a minute fracture in his affected leg bone, which could lead to seepage, leaving doctors with no other option but to amputate his infected limb. A third, closely related to the second scenario, would occur if he was to end up confined to wheelchair for the rest of his life.
The fourth, and certainly the most long shot of options, was a miraculous one where his body would respond positively to the medication and treatment for the Ewing’s sarcoma. Herzlich had made up his mind to strive for the fourth option. Throughout 2009, Herzlich stayed away from football and the limelight as he worked his way through his disease and back onto the playing field.


Ray of Hope

Herzlich started on a vigorous treatment of chemotherapy as his family and friends stood by him, praying for that miracle. When they saw that his body was responding to radiation treatments, they nurtured hopes of Herzlich’s survival and even an inkling of hope for a return to his normal life. Seeing positive changes,  Herzlich’s doctors decided to forgo surgery and continue with the chemotherapy treatments. The fear of the disease returning or even becoming more widespread was always a possibility. Even so, Herzlich stood by his dream of returning to the playing field and tackling opposing quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

News of Herzlich’s phenomenal battle against cancer had spread with an infectious rage. He received a number of accolades, including the Disney Wide World of Sports Spirit Award for his indomitable spirit and courage he showed during his battle with cancer. Additionally, he was awarded the Nils V. “Swede” Nelson Award for sportsmanship, as well as an honorary Lott Trophy and the ACC’s Commissioner’s Cup.

The Post Interval Kick-Start

On September 29, 2009, Herzlich announced that he was now cancer free, a fact corroborated by his physicians. Herzlich resumed football practice as he sat out the entire 2009 college football season. He finally returned to action on September 4, 2010 in a game against the Weber State Wildcats. Herzlich responded with five tackles in Boston College’s 38-20 victory. Herzlich had a good season for the Eagles as a junior, staring all 13 games that season. He chose to make himself available for the 2011 NFL Draft, but went undrafted. Although drafted by the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League, Herzlich had a dream of playing in the NFL and chose to pursue a spot on an NFL team’s roster instead.

On June 26, 2011, Herzlich signed as free agent with the New York Giants. On November 20, 2011, Herzlich saw his first action in an NFL game, playing against the Giant’s National Football Conference East Division rival Philadelphia Eagles. By the end of the regular season, Herzlich had registered 12 tackles as a member of the Giants defense and special teams units.

Super Bowl XLVI

The 46th Super Bowl gives Herzlich an opportunity to play on one of the biggest stages in sports, as the  NFC champion Giants take on the champions of the American Football Conference – the New England Patriots – at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. This game is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, featuring a number of different and intriguing storylines, but maybe none as interesting as the path that Mark Herzlich took to arrive on that stage. His successful battle against bone cancer is a battle cry for cancer patients the world over and can surely serve as a major morale booster for them.
Defying the odds, Herzlich takes the field today as a symbol of the fighting spirit that is in all of us. On Twitter, he has tweeted to his fans all over the world, expressing his gratitude for not only being alive but to be playing in the Super Bowl and proving that he has challenged cancer and beat it with flying colors. Cancer could not stop Herzlich from dreaming and achieving what he aspired for – great news and shining inspiration for the cancer patients across the world!


Featured image credit, as well as a video of a 60 Minutes featuring Mark over at imgacademies.