For the past 18 years, the Children’s Cancer Institute at HackensackUMC has organized a “Celebration for Life” to honor the teenagers who have been treated for cancer or a serious blood disorder and are now graduating from high school.
The 14 young men and women recognized at this year’s graduation had a special guest – Giants’ linebacker Mark Herzlich.
“When I was told about this opportunity to come and speak to this graduating class at Hackensack University Medical Center, I said, ‘wait a second, they’re getting everybody together who is graduating high school and got treatments here?’” Herzlich said.
He added: “I said, ‘that is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.' They’re current patients, they’re former patients, and they’re every single type of person here together that all share that badge of honor.”
The ceremony, which brought together families, friends and other guest speakers, hits near to Herzlich’s heart. In 2009 during his junior year at Boston College, Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
“At the time, the doctors told me I’d never be able to play football again, I’d never be able to run again,” Herzlich recalled. “We looked at the diagnosis not as a death sentence, not as a killer of dreams, but as an obstacle.”
After six months of chemotherapy and 50 rounds of radiation, a cancer-free Herzlich was able to get out of the hospital and back on the gridiron.
“I was able to get back out on the football field and play for Boston College again, and get a tryout with the New York Giants as a rookie,” Herzlich said. “I was able to sign on and kind of make my way, find a niche into the team and be a part of a really unbelievable championship team in 2011 and go to Indianapolis and win the Super Bowl with them.”
Now a six-year NFL veteran, Herzlich spends every second he’s not on the football field lending his time to various causes. From PSAs with the Joyful Heart Foundation to countless initiatives with the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, Herzlich uses his own fight with cancer to help inspire others.
“I think the reason why I was able to play again was to be able to inspire kids and say look, it is possible,” Herzlich said. “You don’t need to be a superhero not only to beat this illness, but to fulfill the dreams you always wanted to do.”
In his address at the HackensackUMC graduation, Herzlich spoke of the courage, strength and determination needed to achieve goals and succeed.
“There are certain things that are possible through medicine, and there are certain things that are possible through the will of the human spirit,” Herzlich told the graduates. “You guys are displaying that.”
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