my condition was leukemia. but my position was, i'm walking out of here.
Chuck Pagano, new coach of the Indianapolis Colts, dismissed the fatigue he felt for several weeks as just what comes with the job. But the inexplicable deep purple bruises he couldn't ignore. "You'd better get that checked out," advised his wife Tina. This was late September 2012.
Pagano's first instinct, like most cancer patients on hearing their diagnosis, was disbelief: "I just got the opportunity of a lifetime. I just got this chance, and now I'm going to get slapped with this and be removed from what I love to do most?"
But Pagano deals in reality. He's a football coach. He asked for the facts: What was this going to entail? His doctor explained that acute myeloid leukemia was one of the most curable forms of leukemia, though Pagano would have to take a leave of absence. The treatment wasn't going to be fun.
"I could deal with it from the mental standpoint because I've been hardened from having been an athlete and a football coach," Pagano said of the three rounds of chemotherapy he endured. But nothing can prepare a person for the hellish, unrelieved physical effects that can make you sick, torture your immune system and steal every ounce of energy.
Pagano gutted through it, just as millions of cancer patients do every day. What kept him strong?
"There was never a doubt in my mind that I wasn't going to walk out of here. Because of my wife and kids and grandkids I just thought, no way, I have no options. I will beat this. These people, I've got to be there for them. So I never had a choice."
Football and friends came through in a big way. Though Pagano had coached only three games before his diagnosis, the community took him into their hearts. Cheerleaders shaved their heads in support. "CHUCKSTRONG" became a powerful local and national movement. The team sent practice tapes to keep him in the loop. It worked: "When I was concentrating on football, for a few hours I could forget what was going on with myself."
Coach Pagano returned to work in December 2012, three months after starting treatment. He is 99% in remission but there's a road ahead: five years of keeping the disease at bay. He is still amazed at how a city and community embraced someone they hardly knew. But then, Chuck Pagano amazes people by his example: showing how to confront a potentially fatal disease with courage and purpose.
"For everybody who's battling this disease, for everybody who's going to battle this disease, I would just say, look, your attitude's got to be one of, I'm gonna beat it."hide full story