James Conner wasn’t supposed to be the Pittsburgh Steelers starting running back last season, but, hey, that didn’t stop him from rushing for nearly 1,000 yards, scoring 12 touchdowns and earning himself a Pro Bowl invite. While Conner was just filling in for perennial All-Pro Le’Veon Bell — who was holding out in a contract dispute with the team — the challenge to perform at a high level was nothing compared to what he had to deal with just a few years earlier.
As most of us know, James Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma while he was still a college player at the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 — which led to some A+ support from other players. The cancer was actually discovered when he went to the doctor after having difficulty sleeping as he rehabbed a torn MCL, with additional tests leading to the diagnosis after doctors found tumors around his heart.
Talking to Mike Seander on the podcast Ya Neva Know: ya know what I mean?, Conner detailed just how grim things were just four years ago, revealing that doctors told him he only had about a week to live had the cancer not been discovered in time.
“The doctor told me I had about a week left.”
“He said, ‘You got about a week.’ If you didn’t get this treated, you had about a week at the rate it was growing”
“I’m rehabbing for that (torn MCL), trying to make a comeback before the season ends. And then I’m rehabbing and [stuff and I get] night sweats, bro. I’m getting like 15 minutes of sleep a night, going through it. Sleep, who don’t love sleep? That’s the worst [stuff] in the world. … I get some tests done, and I got tumors surrounding my heart. … I got tumors growing all around it.”
After doctors revealed that he had Hodgkin lymphoma and began treatment, James Conner talked about the difficulty of telling his family what he was going through.
“The hardest part about the whole thing was telling my bros,” he said, per WTAE.com. “I remember that like it was yesterday. … How would they feel if their youngest brother was not here no more? How would they feel if their youngest brother died? I said I can’t do it. I can’t go.”
Officially declared cancer-free in May-2016, Conner returned to Pitt for his senior year to rush for over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns, and was later drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. Since then, the 24-year-old has put in the work to find himself on top of the depth chart, and is hoping to build off an unexpected breakout 2018 campaign.
Regardless of being a Steelers fan or not, it’s easy to root for James Conner. Anyone who kicks cancer’s ass in an inspiration, and it’s wild to see how Conner’s journey has taken him through unfortunate health problems to a starting running back with a chance to become the next great running back for the Steelers.