Overcoming the Giants

For those of you who have seen my Twitter updates or noticed some of my wall posts on Facebook, it may have been apparent to you that I am increasingly interested in the life of a certain Mark Herzlich.Perhaps it went unnoticed, but if it had, in fact, caught your eye, you may have pondered my interest in this man; and now, I will tell you where that interest lies.

While I am open to discuss my life with whomever wants to know its details, unless asked, I tend to stridently retain some of my life’s most personal details. Of course, since this is a blog, I am not asked and, consequently, I do not tell.

However, in only revealing half of my heart, which houses my convictions, my passions, and the very essence of who I am, I’m refusing to show that which I actually “carry…in my heart.” And very close to that aforementioned heart is my boyfriend, Joe Feeley.

We met in high school. He was a year older. He played baseball. He drove a Corvette. And, at first, that’s what I knew about him. Before long, I realized he was humble, sweet, and, if anything, too nice. Smart and talented, he just – excelled. He always had, and he always would.

He signed with his first choice, Liberty University, a Division 1 school, that fall. While baseball never defined him, we both knew all along that he would go where baseball took him; it was what he loved, and he was good at it. The story can get long and complicated at this point, so I’ll try to keep it short – we stayed together and maintained a long distance relationship that first year. Once I graduated, I, too, chose Liberty (not an uncommon choice for students attending our high school) and, after over-committing my senior year, decided to remain non-committal my freshman year. Consequently, I watched a lot of baseball. It’s a tangled story, but in the end, Joe wasn’t getting the playing time that he had the year before and struggled through an un-fulfilling season; following the Big South Conference Championship games that spring of 2009, Joe’s scholarship was increased, but he decided to transfer anyway.

He was excited to play for Frostburg State University, which provided exactly what he was looking for – a more relaxed program, a coach who would play him, and guys he knew. He worked hard, he had fun. Until he couldn’t sleep at night. As an athlete, Joe not only had an exceptionally high pain tolerance, but he had also learned to suck it up. We didn’t know how bad it was. His pain was aggravated when he would drive home to visit. It was hard for him to get comfortable. It grew increasingly worse.

We thought it was a sports injury, but it was not. After weeks of what morphed into agonizing back pain, accompanied by a slew of scans, Joe was finally diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, an extremely rare form of bone cancer. To make matters worse, Joe’s cancer had spread throughout his body; he needed to be treated by the best.

In comes Doctor Staddon. While it was Joe’s first appointment in Philly, we had quickly become acquainted with scans, nurses, hospitals, and seemingly all things medical during that first month of 2010. While Joe, heavily drugged in his pain, doesn’t remember the appointment, I do. At that time, we all still wondered at Joe’s overall prognosis (deemed less favorable than we had hoped, certainly), but were ever conscious of baseball, too. Would he play again? How soon? And so, Dr. Staddon told us about another patient of his, a fellow athlete who was also dealing with the blow that Ewings had struck in his own life. His prognosis was great, he was recovering well. He was a fighter too, and he was winning. Among the flood of support that Joe received over the following months, a note from a Boston College football player came in the mail, full of encouragement. Through overcoming his own bout with cancer, Mark represented strength and determination, from day one.

While we were in Puerto Rico, the ESPYS aired. You should know that I love the ESPYS; it’s the Oscars of the sports world, and it thrills me. Despite the lateness of the hour and missing the beginning due to an late-night tour of Old San Juan, I was ecstatic to catch the end of the show, my enthusiasm mounting when the major awards were repeated. Wait – Best Comeback went to whom? I don’t claim to know him, because I clearly don’t, but I really was happy for Mark. Cancer at any age is devastating, but while you’re in college, trying to figure the rest of your life out and excel all the while – well, that’s just really not a good time to get the news.

We’re baseball people, and myself only nominally so compared to Joe and his family, so I really don’t follow football. I really don’t. I mean, I may get SI email updates and I knew about the NFL lock-out. Vaguely. But Mark’s decision to sign with the Giants did catch my attention; after all his training, all he’s been through, this man should be playing. And while Joe doesn’t plan to ever make a serious return to baseball, something about Mark making it to the NFL inspires me; somehow, it’s like seeing Joe get better. For me, there’s hope in Mark’s story. And there’s a reminder that yes, despite the set-backs, life does, indeed, still go on.

3 Responses to “Overcoming the Giants”
  1. Alli Minarik says:

    Hi Janie,

    My son who is 13 years old has PNET Ewing’s Sarcoma of the spine and I too have followed Mark Herzlich’s story and found hope in it. Aleksei is a naturally gifted, focused and aggressive athlete in both football and hockey. He has had his last hockey season and the current football season taken away from him due to cancer treatments. I provide Aleksei with tidbits of Mark’s story, but anything football related is hard for him to deal with, as he misses playing football so much.

    I will include your Joe in the wish I make tonight.

    Yours kindly,


    • Janie Sikes says:

      Hi Alli,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your son’s battle with Ewing’s – I’m sure he’s a remarkably tough kid! Since Joe’s diagnosis, I’ve intentionally tried not to research very much or further immerse myself in the cancer world – it can be so discouraging. Lately, though, now that he’s beginning to feel better, stories like Mark’s mean so much to me. I hope to hear about Aleksei’s own recovery, too! I know it must be so difficult (and physically painful) for him to sit out, and hope he’s able to recover all that he’s lost very soon!

      Your family will be in my prayers, and I wish you all the best!

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