James Conner, Pittsburgh RB, Diagnosed With Cancer

Pittsburgh running back James Conner has spent the last few months debating on whether or not to return for his senior year, after his junior year ended with a torn ligament, or declare for the National Football League (NFL). It was a decision that he had gone back and forth on many times, but a call he received on Thanksgiving morning made the final decision for him. He wouldn’t be choosing either option.

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, James Conner announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer, stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma, to be exact. The 2014 ACC Player of the Year made the heartbreaking announcement on the Pittsburgh athletics website.

“When I heard those words –`You have cancer’ — I admit I was scared,” Conner said in a press release. “But after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that fear is a choice. I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it and I will win.”

“One year ago today I was asking myself, `Why me?’ Why was I the lucky one to be getting the ACC Player of the Year award when I had so many teammates who deserved it as much as me? Now one year later, instead of asking, `Why me?’ I am saying, `Why not me?’ I can beat cancer,’ ” he continued.

The 20-year-old of Erie, Pennsylvania, had been going through a rigorous rehab after experiencing a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, which he sustained during his junior year as a running back for Pittsburgh. It was while James was working out that he would start experiencing strange symptoms — his face would start getting puffy and he would instantly get short of breath. James decided to see a doctor, who made the discovery that he had tumors in his head and chest.

“When I tore my knee, I thought it was the worst thing ever,” Conner said. “That took a back seat.”

James Conner will start a chemotherapy regimen on Tuesday at the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at the Hillman Cancer Center. He will receive the treatment once every two weeks for six months. Luckily, Stanley Marks, deputy director of Clinical Services for UPMC Cancer Center, said the average cure rate for someone diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system, is 85-95 percent.

“This is a highly curable cancer, and we are optimistic that James will be cured,” Dr. Marks said. “Obviously, he’s in better shape than a lot of folks, so hopefully he’s going to get through the therapy a lot easier than most people.”

Since making his announcement, James Conner has been receiving an outpouring of support from his fellow teammates, fans, and friends.

My teammates mean the world to me. Show much love from my brothers. Can’t wait to take the field with them again as a Pitt Panther!

— James Conner ️ (@JamesConner_) December 4, 2015

“I know there are so many people in the world who were told by their doctors this week that they also have cancer. I want them to know that together we can — and will — beat cancer,” Conner said. “I will play football again. I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”

[Photo by Keith Srakocic/Associated Press]