Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 while he was playing football at the University of Pittsburgh. When the doctor told him he had tumors around his heart, he also said Conner didn't have long to live.
"The doctor told me I had about a week left," Conner told Mike Seander on the podcast Ya Neva Know: ya know what I mean? (h/t Hunter Homistek of DKPittsburghSports.com; warning: NSFW language). "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."
Conner, who was rehabbing a torn MCL at the time, said the cancer was discovered after he was having difficulty sleeping and went to get additional testing:
"I'm rehabbing for that, 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."
Conner began chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin lymphoma, though he said the most difficult part of the diagnosis was telling his family.
"The hardest part about the whole thing was telling my bros," he said (h/t 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."
Conner was declared cancer-free in May 2016, returned to Pitt for his senior season and was drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. After serving as Le'Veon Bell's backup during his rookie season, Conner ascended to the starting role last year as Bell held out for the entire season.
He was a revelation, rushing for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 games while adding 55 receptions for another 497 yards and one score.