As you are reading this, I am probably having surgery to get my entire stomach removed.
I used to hear about people have life-changing health issues and I’d feel sad for them, keep them in my thoughts, help if I could, but it never occurred to me that it could happen to me. These type of things seemed so remote. In high school, I remember sitting in the back of Biology class and listening to my teacher lecture about the process of conception. The lesson was about the frantic race between sperms to get to the egg, and I thought to myself how lucky I was to be the one that emerged from the successful gamete that won for me the right to be born. In February 2016, I listened to another science lesson from my genetic counselor, this one about how I was actually the unlucky organism that carried a genetic mutation called CDH1. My mom’s side of the family carries this gene, and carriers are at 70-80% risk of developing stomach cancer by the age of 38.
My mom’s side of the family has had a long history of young deaths at the hands of this deadly disease, including my mom herself, but it was only recently that they discovered the gene that caused it.
Essentially, my stomach is a ticking time bomb.
Stomach cancer is extremely hard to detect and my doctor told me he believes that there is at least microscopic levels of cancers forming already, so my only option for survival is to have my stomach surgically removed. Food will go straight to my intestines and eventually they’ll stretch out enough to serve as a kind of small stomach. It’ll be a difficult healing process, but I’ve reached out to multiple people who have had the surgery and have learned that they’ve led normal lives after. I won’t be able to devour unnecessarily large meals like I’m used to any more, but at least I’ll never be obese, so there’s that. I guess.
(Graphic created by Vivian Trang)
After a two-year battle with stomach cancer, my mom died at the age of 38. My dad worked out of town and was home maybe one week out of each month, so we kids were left to the care of my loving aunt, uncle, and grandpa. Things weren’t always been easy but we’ve managed to do pretty well for ourselves. I have a degree from a top college and I just received my master’s in June. My brother just graduated from a four-year university and is going to the police academy soon. We both played high school football and I truly believe that the lessons we learned from playing football helped us stay on the right track. Playing football teaches you that hard work isn’t always rewarded right away, but if you keep fighting something good will come from the struggle. That lesson is going to be invaluable to me in the dark days of my recovery.
I’ve been an educator for a couple of years now, but I’ve been a football coach since 2007. Coaching has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life, but, unfortunately I had to resign this year because I will be having surgery in August. Although I’ll miss the game-planning, the meetings, and the play-calling, I’ll miss the camaraderie the most. Nothing is more satisfying than feeling a team truly come together, unite, and find its members play for each other. Although I’ll probably do some remote-coaching, I’m not going to feel that camaraderie this year. But I know I’ll be back eventually; I’m just not sure when. This offseason I have found a nice hobby in writing about football and although I won’t be coaching, writing it and discussing football with my readers will be enough for me this year.
Me reliving my QB glory days with a little flag football action.
Fortunately, I have an amazing support system around me. My family, my, friends, and my girlfriend are my team now and they’ve been here with me at every turn. Seriously, they’ve tried to look for ever single opportunity to help even when I’m not asking. They’ve been my counselors when I’m discouraged and are going to be my lifelines when I need them most. I tried writing out a list thanking everyone individually but he list is too long. I’m completely infatuated with my girlfriend, Vivian, and having her by my side is going to be invaluable to my spirits. I feel like this discovery and this surgery couldn’t have come at a better time.
Another benefit that football has blessed me with is a lifelong focus on my health. I was in good shape when I was diagnosed and, thanks to my brother, cousin, and my lifting partner (Daniel Eusebio, I’ve put on fifteen pounds of muscle and feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. Physically, I’m ready for surgery. Mentally, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t terrified. Recovery is going to be painful and there are going to be times when I’m down, but I promise I will keep my head up.
For now, I plan to focus on my writing while I’m bed-ridden, which I don’t expect to be more than a month. I started this blog to inform my friends and readers about my situation. Don’t feel sorry for me, but I’d appreciate some coaching if you see me stop writing. Be harsh; I can take it. “Breakdown Derek Carr’s five touchdown performance you lazy bastard!” Instead of asking for donations I will be writing a season preview I will sell more a small amount so be on the lookout for that!
I still believe that I am that lucky to be blessed with the gift of life. I’ve been given a second chance that many cancer patients including my mom would have loved to have. Although this was one of the hardest decisions that I have ever made, it is one that I had to make for me, my family, and especially to honor my mom.I will be back to my normal self in time, but for now, thanks for reading.