From UPMC Hillman Cancer Center & Stanley M. Marks, MD • Photos from Pittsburgh Steelers/Karl Roser

HOW WAS CONNER’S CANCER DISCOVERED?
James was referred to me after a biopsy of an enlarged lymph node in his neck revealed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. His symptoms included night sweats, fatigue, and swelling of the face, neck, and upper chest, particularly when lifting weights and physically exerting himself. Such swelling was attributable to the pressure of the tumor on his veins and heart. Secondary to his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he presented with a huge mass in his chest. The mass literally was pressing on his heart. Because he was a high performing Division I athlete and in such peak physical condition, his symptoms were not as quickly recognized as they may have been with someone else. This was a very serious situation and, if left untreated, could have been fatal. Fortunately, he responded to treatment very quickly.

WHAT KIND OF A TREATMENT PLAN DID YOU IMPLEMENT?
The first line of treatment was to reduce the mass in his chest and we did that by starting with steroids and blood thinners. Shortly thereafter, James was able to begin chemotherapy, a regimen of 12 chemotherapy treatments over a 6-month period. During his treatments at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, he wanted to be in the general treatment area with other patients, affording him an opportunity to offer encouragement and support to fellow cancer patients. His lionhearted and collegial approach to fighting the disease and related treatment galvanized other patients to think optimistically. He’s really an unbelievable human being.

WHAT ARE THE THINGS YOU ARE ENCOURAGING CONNER TO DO TO MAINTAIN HIS HEALTH, ESPECIALLY AS A YOUNG PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE?
While a survivor, James is not different than any other professional athlete from a health and fitness perspective. He is in great shape, demonstrating that right now on the football field with the Pittsburgh Steelers. When he started treatment, at the outset, my team and I did tell him he had to limit his weightlifting and work outs. While he did have some initial fatigue, he continued to participate in the team drills at Pitt. Wearing a surgical mask to prevent any infection, he worked out with his teammates and did whatever they were doing at the time. I have to say, watching James in his first NFL start and scoring his first touchdown was quite emotional for me. I am so proud of him as a person and a true fighter. I am proud to call him a friend.

WHAT ARE THE WAYS FOR PEOPLE TO SUPPORT THE CANCER PROGRAMS, FINANCIALLY, VOLUNTEERING, RAISING AWARENESS?
There are many ways that people can get involved in the fight against cancer: volunteering at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, making financial contributions to cancer research, raising awareness within the community, and participating in events such as walks, golf outings, and galas. You can find out how to support cancer programs by visiting Hillman.UPMC.com.

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