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Five Years Later: Revisiting Mark Herzlich's Lost Season

When a football player taught us more about ourselves and the human spirit than any one game could've ever done.

Brian Favat-BC Interruption

Five years.

Sit back and think about what's happened over the past five years in your life.  Maybe you got married.  Maybe you met your wife.  Maybe you had a child.  Maybe you started a new job, lost a job, bought a house, moved to a new hometown.  Maybe you experienced happiness.  Maybe you experienced loss.  Maybe nothing happened.

For cancer patients, five years is everything.  It's the end of a journey of fear and unknown, the final stamp of a one-match fight.  It's the final mark, the final check-up, the final battle.  It's the final round after all the other rounds are done.  It's not just a cycle.

In the battle against cancer, the five year mark represents the final goal.  It's the moment where someone fighting cancer is no longer fighting against recurrence.  It's the moment where the chance of getting cancer is the same as everybody else.  It's the moment where surviving the fight moves to the past after spending so much time in the present.  Within five years, a cancer patient can have a recurrence with a higher percentage.  Outside of that mark, the likelihood is the same as a non-cancer survivor, making it less likely to be diagnosed, even if it doesn't eradicate the opportunity.

Five years ago, Mark Herzlich began missing what would've been his senior season.  Diagnosed in May, 2009 with Ewing's Sarcoma, his fight to become a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft all of a sudden became a major secondary issue compared to the fight for his life.  And while Mark ultimately defeated bone cancer and became a Super Bowl champion, few things can probably compare to the victory he attained this year when he reached his five year mark.

Few people understand what that means; some of us (like my mother, for example) have had the unfortunate privilege of going through it multiple times.  But as we look back over the past five years of Boston College football, we should also look back at the organic impact of a message one man and one community can deliver.

It's important to look within the context of the situation.  We all rallied around Mark Herzlich during his diagnosis and during his treatments.  We watched the documentaries and soaked up the human interest side.  Each step of the way, he made sure we knew he was healthy, he was fighting, and he was ready to go.  Many of us knew people afflicted with cancer but didn't know about the fight.  What we saw was the compassion of people, the reality of the fight, and the struggle day after day to get back to a place #94 wanted to be.  We bought the Beat Cancer t-shirts and donated to Uplifting Athletes. We reveled in his comeback.

After the cancer-free announcement, however, comes the remainder of the story.  It's the one of regular checkups and a return to a normal life.  Even though we watched Herzlich return to the field and win a Super Bowl, the fight wasn't over.  It continued for years with the threat of a higher likelihood of recurrence coming...until now.

Mark Herzlich reached five years.  For most of us, that 2010 game on 9/4 represented the return of #94.  Weber State wasn't just a game; it was probably the greatest sports event I'll ever witness in person because of what it represented.  I remember my mom fighting cancer for what seemed like the umpteenth time (in reality, I think it might've been #3 or #4), and I remember the look in her eyes when she saw him run out of the tunnel four years ago.  I'll never forget what that moment represented on so many levels for so many different people.

But I'll never forget more what the five year mark means.  Mark Herzlich, Momma New Guy, all of the cancer patients who reached five years for the first, second, or what we hope will forever be the last time - congratulations.  You're living in a new day.  For the rest of you fighting towards that mark, keep fighting.  For those of you just starting the fight, don't give up because that day that seems forever away isn't unattainable.  For those who didn't get the chance to see five years, let's never forget.  For those of you who haven't fought or who will one day be unfortunately afflicted, let's fight now to eradicate these diseases.  Let's get behind causes and stay behind causes.  And let's make five years something of a history lesson.

Five years.  The fight continues.