Punter’s Cancer Battle Inspires SU, Pinstripe Bowl
NEW YORK (AP) — Since Rob Long had a malignant tumor removed from his brain, some of the most difficult moments have come after dark.
“I’ll tell you what, going to bed at night has not been easy,” the Syracuse punter said Tuesday.
“Initially, there’s a lot of sleepless nights because your mind wanders when you’re trying to think about what’s going on when you’re 22 years old and you got brain cancer.”
This week, though, has been a good one for Long.
The senior from Downington, Pa., can’t play, but he is spending time with his teammates as they prepare to play in the Pinstripe Bowl on Thursday against Kansas State (7-5).
He had been away from the team since having the surgery on Dec. 11 to remove a tumor that doctors had hoped would be benign, but turned out to be malignant. He found out on Dec. 20 it was cancer.
“Physically, I think I feel pretty good given having brain surgery two weeks ago,” he said. “Emotionally, it’s been a roller coaster over the past month.”
Long said he and his family are still gathering information about treatment options. He expects to undergo radiation treatment and chemotherapy.
“I told (my doctors) that because of my age and my good health otherwise, that I want to attack this as aggressively as possible because I believe I can handle that,” he said.
Long spoke to reporters during a media availability at a midtown Manhattan hotel for about 20 minutes, optimistically talking about what he’s been through and what lies ahead.
The 6-foot-3, 193-pound Long said he is still dealing with some headaches and dizziness, but not much. Getting to spend time with his teammates again has been great medicine — for everybody.
“I think it was good for me to see them and it was good for them to see me,” he said. “I think a lot of people were surprised to see that I was up and walking around.”
Linebacker Doug Hogue said his “heart dropped” when he saw Long at the team hotel.
“I was like, ‘Wow, Rob, What’s up?’ I gave him a big hug and kiss on the forehead,” Hogue said.
Long will be on the sideline for Syracuse’s first bowl game since 2004.
“We’re definitely going to be playing for him this week,” quarterback Ryan Nassib said. “He’s our captain. He’s our leader.”
The Orange (7-5) worked out Tuesday at the New York Jets’ facility in Florham Park, N.J., and Long got to boot a few balls.
“I can still go out and kick, which is good to know,” he said. “You’re not always sure what to expect when you get a major brain operation. I was kind of nervous at first to go out and do something for fear of what was going to happen. But it went well.”
Long led the Big East in punting this season with a 43.8-yard average.
How far did that first one go after a long layoff?
“Maybe like 35, 40 yards,” he said. “It was a start.”
Long said he was dealing with headaches, nausea and feeling uncoordinated at times for much of the season, but it really started to concern him in November and he went to get checked out.
On Dec. 2, he found out about the tumor — the same day his mother’s sister received a breast cancer diagnosis.
“I can’t even describe,” he said. “It was like your world came crashing down.”
The next dark day came when doctors told him they found malignant cells in the tumor.
“I can’t tell you the feeling that went through me,” he said. “It’s absolutely devastating. I kind of accepted it and I’m ready to treat it and move on and get through it.”
He said the numerous letters, cards and notes of encouragement he has received from strangers — including one from the Kansas State football team — and friends have been uplifting.
He has also drawn strength from cancer survivors.
“I have spoken with so many people who have beaten cancer and come through with that and gone on to live happy and successful lives,” he said. “Those are the stories I love to hear. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell that same story.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.