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Football Coach Mark Nofri Encourages Screening for Colon Cancer Early

Mark Nofri was beginning his fourth season as head coach for the Sacred Heart University football team when he received life-changing news. “I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer on March 20, 2015,” he said. “That kind of came out of the blue.”

Nofri had been examined a year earlier and the doctors found nothing. “I had gotten a colonoscopy eleven months prior, but there was no sign of cancer and no polyps, no tumors growing or anything,” he said. When doctors recommended a second colonoscopy in 2015, it was merely a precaution. “That was when they found a tumor the size of a golf ball,” he said. “I was already at stage 2 and stage 3.”

Immediate intervention

Nofri began consulting with Dr. Jill Lacy and surgeon Dr. Walter Longo at Yale New Haven Hospital. “When I had met with Dr. Longo, he said that there was only one way that he knew how to treat this, and that was aggressively,” Nofri said. “He was going to cut me open and take out 12 to 14 inches of my colon and we would go from there.”

“Within seven days, I was on the table to have it removed,” Nofri said. “They took out 33 lymph nodes and found three more infected as well, so we decided that we needed to do chemotherapy treatment every Monday for seven months, 12 total treatments going every other week.”

Focus on the goal

The regular chemotherapy treatments were the hardest times Nofri had ever experienced. “I’ve never experienced anything in my entire life that was so hard,” he said. “My body didn’t handle it well. My body was sick three to four days a week; as soon as you get over it and start feeling better and you start to rally, that Monday comes around a week later and you have to go through it again.”

To get through the painful chemotherapy, Nofri had to keep the end goal in sight. “What you are doing is putting poison in your body,” he said. “You’re trying to kill something in your body and bloodstream. Your body is fighting it off and it doesn’t have a good reaction, and it knocks you down. But when you fight through it and find out you’re cancer-free and finish treatment, you feel like you got a new lease on life, a second chance to make something.”

The right support

Having the support of his football team as well as his family helped Nofri get through the worst of it. “One of the only things that got me through was that I continued to coach and be around my players,” he said. It helped to be “hearing their support and watching me go through it and encouraging me to work through it to get through the treatment.”

Keeping active was also important for Nofri, not only for his physical health but also to help him maintain a positive attitude. “My thought process was two choices: either sit around, feel sorry for myself, bury myself, and not do anything about it – or continue to do what makes me happy and get me through this.”


Helping other patients

Having successfully beaten his cancer, Nofri shares his story openly, hoping to encourage other men who have similar experiences to do the same. “When I hear someone else has colon cancer, I’m very open to talking to them, sharing stories, and giving them support.”

Nofri also hopes to encourage men to get tested early. “If I can have two or three people get a colonoscopy by sharing my story, I would have done some good,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of making people understand that no one should be waiting until 40 or 50, but rather 30 years old, every three to five years. The procedure’s not great, but it keeps you from going through the surgery and keeps you from chemo. No one wants to do that and fight off that cancer. And it’s given me a new lease on life in terms of how lucky I was.”

For men going through cancer treatment, Nofri offered this advice: “Lean on friends and family, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and let people help you through the process. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Go be active; go fight!”

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