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Herzlich deals with cancer

Posted by Mark Blaudschun, Globe Staff  May 15, 2009 04:27 PM

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The pain was in his back, in his legs. All the time. Mark Herzlich had felt worse after games and practices during a three-year career at Boston College, but it was nothing the 6-foot-4-inch, 238-pound linebacker felt he couldn't handle.

Still, he wanted to be cautious. Herzlich was beginning to prepare for his senior season, with an NFL career within reach for last season's Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year.

"The kid was sitting on top of the world," said Herzlich's father, Sandy, Friday morning by telephone from his home in Pennsylvania. "But during spring practice he had a lot of different things that were bothering him. We checked it out and the doctors prescribed some medicine, which allowed him to play in the spring game. The nerve medication seemed to be working, but it didn't work all the way. The pain came back. We went to another doctor and he said that we weren't taking a strong enough dosage. Imagine if we had done that originally. He wouldn't have felt any pain and they probably would have never found what they found. It's a borderline mini-miracle."

Earlier this week, doctors found a tumor in Herzlich's left thigh, which was diagnosed as a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing's sarcoma. Sandy Herzlich said the initial exam revealed the cancer had not spread.

"Right now, I'm just sad for Mark," said Sandy Herzlich. "I have no doubt that he is going to survive. But this has just been unbelievable."

Mark Herzlich, who will begin chemotherapy treatments Tuesday in Philadelphia, was almost matter of fact in discussing the setback.

"I had an MRI done on Monday," he said. "On Tuesday, they got the MRI back. That's when I figured it out. They told me to go to an oncologist right away and he told me I had this form of cancer. They told me that it hadn't spread to any other parts of my body, but now I have to deal with this."

Herzlich said he analyzed the situation as best as he could.

"I was sitting on the [examination] table trying to put a meaning to what the doctor was saying and how serious it was," he said. "My mind flashed to where does that put me in regards to football and where does it put me in regards with my life."

The next seven months will consist of a series of treatments designed to shrink the tumor. By early fall, doctors hope the tumor will be small enough that they can remove it.

Rest and recovery will follow, which will take Herzlich through the end of the year. He said his goal is to return to playing by next spring.

"Basically what it is, is that a lump in my leg is giving me a pain in the ass," he said.

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