There can be heroes - Chuck Pagano
“It’s been a very difficult week,” said Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay in making the announcement on October 1. “The coach was feeling some fatigue over the past few weeks. (He) had noticed some bruising on his body that at first he thought could have been from contact on the field coaching, or playing with his grand kids. Eventually through talking to his wife, Tina, she said, ‘You need to check that out because the bruising appears to be more prominent.’
“We did have the coach go in and get fully evaluated on the bruising and his fatigue. The conclusion came down that he did have leukemia. Obviously, it’s a very difficult blow for him, for his family.”
APML accounts for approximately 10 percent of adults with Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) diagnosed annually in the nation, an estimated number of cases ranging between 1,000 and 1,300.
AML is a cancer of the bone marrow, the tissue responsible for the production of the peripheral blood cells required for health. The bone marrow, as a rule, is distributed in the adult vertebrae, proximal long bones and pelvis.
The normal bone marrow is capable of the regulated production of white blood cells, red blood cell and platelets throughout a person’s lifetime due a population of marrow cells capable of self-renewal and differentiation into any type of mature blood cell. These primitive cells are the stem cell. In AML a cell from the stem cell pool becomes incapable of maturing into healthy blood cells and accumulates as immature cells or blasts. The diagnosis of AML is made when more than 19 percent of the marrow nucleated cells are blasts (the normal percentage is less than five percent).
“We always talk about, ‘God, family, football,’ in that order. … I am optimistic,” said Irsay. “I feel with every fiber in my body, and I know Chuck feels the same way, that he can beat this thing. When you get such a difficult diagnosis like this, it’s tough. At the same time in terms of other diagnosis (from diseases that may be untreatable), that’s not the case here. We feel, and he feels, that he will battle and get this disease in remission. It’s a marathon, no question about it.”
The Colts finished the 2011 NFL season with the worst record in the league, earning the right to draft Andrew Luck with the first overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft. After Sunday’s come from behind win over the Miami Dolphins, the Colts third consecutive victory, the Colts are looking at making the NFL playoffs.
Pagano’s Colts have rallied around their coach’s illness. The Colts are 4-1 since Pagano began his treatment program. Days after the Colts learned their coach would be facing four to six months of intense medical treatment, the Colts rallied to beat the Green Bay Packers 30-23. Minutes after the Packers game ended Irsay took the game ball to Pagano’s hospital room.
The community have shown there for Coach Pagano support buying thousands of “Chuckstrong” T-shirts. A play on the Livestrong cancer campaign founded by the now disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, Armstrong a cancer survivor, raised important dollars for cancer research in the Indianapolis area.
"It means a great deal to people with the disease and for people like myself, who are looking for better treatments" said Dr. Larry Cripe who is treating Pagano at IU Simon Cancer Center of the Indianapolis community doing whatever they can do to help.
"In total, we have raised $178,000 for leukemia research in coach's honor at IU Simon Cancer Center," said Indianapolis Colts Community Relations Coordinator Stephanie Pemberton. (and that was two weeks ago).
Mary Williams, who has battling leukemia for more than a year, told The Indianapolis Star she is able to see past the selfish acts of one. In fact, the coach has inspired her to stay strong.
"When I see all the support at those Colts games, it's the most I'm going to get choked up. It's great, because we know now that, not just because he is the coach, but now we know that there is light at the end of the tunnel," Williams said.
Pagano attended Sunday’s Colts – Miami Dolphins game at Lucas Stadium. While watching the game in a controlled environment to ensure he wasn’t exposed to anything that would impact his current treatment, Pagano visited his team after the game in the Colts locker room delivering a stirring post game message to his players.
"I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a vision, and you weren't living in circumstances," Pagano said Sunday, surrounded by his players and with interim Bruce Arians at his side after the Colts' third straight win. "You know where they had us in the beginning, every last one of them. But you refused to live in circumstances and you decided consciously as a team and as a family to live in a vision, and that's why you bring things home like what you bring home today. That's why you're already champions and well on your way.
"I've got circumstances. You guys understand it, I understand it," Pagano told them. "It's already beat. It's already beat. My vision that I'm living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then lift the Lombardi Trophy several times. I'm dancing at two more weddings and we're hoisting that trophy together, men. Congratulations, I love all of you."
Pagano was back in the hospital Monday facing the second round of his radical chemotherapy. The Indianapolis Star reported Pagano’s cancer is in remission – at the same time Pagano it will be five years before he is considered cured.
Even more exciting for the Colts a suggestion Coach Pagano could return to the sidelines when the Colts meet the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Field on December 30.
“First off, Chuck just stopped in,” Interim coach Bruce Arians said at the team’s West 56th Street complex Monday. “They put a, I’m not sure of the proper medical terms, a stint or something in to be able to start the chemo again.
“His (white cell) count was great. He knows that this next (round of chemotherapy) is going to be really tough. We’re praying and pulling that he’s going to be fine. Once he comes back from round two, he’ll have to have round three. Our goal is for him to be on the sideline Dec. 30th.”
There are sports stories that may be more interesting, the ongoing Lance Armstrong saga, the one-year anniversary firing of the late Joe Paterno; but in a sports universe filled with so many anti-heroes, it’s nice to focus attention of a good story and a good man dealing with a real life challenge. Chuck Pagano a real everyday sports hero.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom