The diagnosis came during Mark Herzlich’s junior year at Boston College, where he had earned the status of ACC Defensive Player of the Year and All American player.

“I was home playing squash with my mom and I felt this sharp pain in my knee,” Herzlich says of his first symptoms. “We thought it was residual from the season.”

Upon returning to practice however, the pain began affecting his running, his speed and his lifting— all skills he would need to carry out his dream of making it to the NFL. An MRI finally confirmed that the pain he was experiencing was due to Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer so rare that little data is available for doctors to go by, and which is usually treated by removing the tumor.

Hit with hard news 

Herzlich recalls his doctor telling him the surgery would damage his leg so badly the he wouldn’t be able to run again. Questions like, “Am I going to die? Am I ever going to play football again?” ran through the football player’s mind. As an athlete who ESPN predicted would make it to the NFL, these questions were beyond warranted, and Herzlich wasn’t prepared to sit back and watch his dreams slip away right before him.

“Set a goal of what you want to do post-cancer. Don’t lose sight of that goal.”

Like anyone who grew up with a strong support system of family and friends, Herzlich mustered strength from his loving parents, brother Brad, and best friend Zack Migeot, and began searching for other options from top doctors in the country.

Faced with a decision 

His own doctor brought up the option of radiation, which would allow Herzlich to keep his femur. “Zero doctors that we spoke to said radiation. They wouldn’t even perform it,” Herzlich remembers.

“Set a goal of what you want to do post-cancer,” Herzlich advises those newly diagnosed with cancer. “Don’t lose sight of that goal.” With his own post-cancer goals in mind, Herzlich—with the support of his parents and oncologist— made the decision to move ahead with the radiation.

Overcoming the odds 

Today, not only has Herzlich regained his ability to run, but he is living out his childhood dream of playing in the NFL, as linebacker for the New York Giants. “When ESPN says you’re going to the NFL, that’s when you start to believe it,” the linebacker recalls. For Herzlich, nothing was going to get between himself and that belief.