Giants' Mark Herzlich overcomes bone cancer

Inspirational comeback stories abound in the world of sports. This year’s NFL season is no exception, such as the come-from-behind, underdog victories by the Denver Broncos, led by Tim Tebow.

One story that bears noting is the return of Mark Herzlich to the sport many thought was part of his past and not his future.

Herzlich, a 24-year-old linebacker for the New York Giants, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, while playing for Boston College. His treatment included chemotherapy, radiation therapy and excision of the tumor that involved the largest bone in the human body, the femur. A titanium rod reinforced the bone shaft.

A two-year course of physical therapy and intense training followed. After being invited to try out for the New York Giants, he accomplished something many thought was impossible: He made the team.

Ewing’s sarcoma is a malignant tumor that typically is seen in children and young adults. It generally appears in the long bones of the body.

The most common presenting symptom is intense bone pain. Unfortunately, in approximately one-third of patients, the tumor already has spread to the lungs and other bones at the time of diagnosis.

Treatment of Ewing’s sarcoma includes aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy that is focused on the tumor site. Surgical excision of the tumor follows.

Dr. Dinesh Kapur, an oncologist and director of cancer services at The William W. Backus Hospital, isn’t surprised by Herzlich’s recovery.

“Early detection, combined with the multimodality approach of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, has dramatically improved survival from Ewing’s sarcoma,” Kapur said.

Herzlich’s return to the highest level of professional sports not only required a combination of modern medical therapies, but an unwavering spirit and commitment to succeed.

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