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By Greg Johnson
All of us have certain dates we remember as significant moments in our lives.
For Adam Cordell, February 24, 2009, is one of those days. It marked the time when he was diagnosed with primary mediastinal germ cancer, which is a rare form of the disease.
Brevard football student-athlete Adam Cordell
Two surgeries, chemotherapy and more than a year of healing and rehabilitation later, Cordell is set to play center when Brevard opens its football season Saturday against NAIA opponent Edward Waters.
With the disease in remission, he’s looking forward to continuing his life as a student-athlete.
“I have scrimmaged and gone through the whole preseason camp,” said Cordell, who has two years of eligibility remaining. “The only problem I had was missing a couple of days with a hamstring injury. My weight is back up, and I feel quicker than I did before I got sick.”
The outcome might not have been the same were it not for an NCAA drug test. Doctors discovered a tumor on Cordell’s right lung after he actually tested positive for human chorionic gonadotropin. The hormone is present in pregnant women and is usually found in low levels of healthy males. It is on the NCAA-banned substance list because it can also be used to help mask performance-enhancing drug use.
Cordell, 21, was told that most failed drug tests for hCG show 15-20 milliliters of the hormone in the sample. His showed 63 milliliters.
“I was mad, because I thought someone had messed up my urine test,” Cordell said. “My head coach said he knew that something else was wrong because he knew I wouldn’t put anything in my body that would harm me.”
That’s when additional tests were done and the cancerous tumor was found.
“Thank God the NCAA drug-testing program showed a positive test,” said Adam’s mom, Sherry. “They were able to catch it early enough to save his life.”
Cordell had been noticing signs of his illness during the 2008 football season. His weight dropped from 285 to 270, and he remembers receiving a blow to the chest that left him feeling like he had broken a rib.
He also thought he was suffering from a bout of bronchitis.
In May of 2009, Cordell had to undergo emergency surgery on his left lung due to complications with the chemotherapy for the tumor on his right lung.
Two months later, he had to travel to Indianapolis for surgery to remove the tumor. He was given a 50-50 chance of surviving the procedure.
Brevard football student-athlete Adam Cordell
“I never thought of this as a life-and-death situation until the day before that surgery,” Cordell said. “It never hit me until then. I guess I downplayed it in my mind to get through this. But that moment was pretty scary.”
He has a scar that ranges from his chest to the middle of his back as a reminder of the surgery. The doctors also had to remove one of his ribs, repair part of his heart and take out a piece of his right lung to rid him of the tumor.
The procedure took eight hours, and Cordell wasn’t expected to regain consciousness until 7 o’clock the next morning. But he awoke at 1 a.m. and found that he had a breathing tube down his throat and his hands tied down.
Cordell was able to free his hand and remove the breathing tube himself. Then he reached for the nurse call button to alert someone that he was awake.
“I must have built up a tolerance to pain medication because none of it fazed me,” Cordell said. “I could feel everything. It was a terrible feeling.”
While he was in the hospital, Brevard Director of Athletics Kim Pate, who is also a member of the Division II Membership Committee, kept vigil with Cordell’s parents and sister.
“We’re all so happy for (Cordell) after seeing him fight through this battle,” Pate said. “Everyone on campus thinks he’s an incredible person.”
After two weeks, he was discharged from the hospital and he made the trek to his hometown of Hartwell, Georgia, where his recovery started.
Cordell, who is majoring in exercise science, wasn’t able to start working out until last February. Slowly, he started regaining his strength.
Cordell, who hopes to be a teacher and a coach later in life, also was able to attend the birth of his second nephew. However, he did have one chilling flashback while visiting his sister’s hospital room to celebrate the happy occasion.
“She was hooked up to the same type of IV machine I had when I was recovering,” Cordell said. ‘It started beeping, and it brought back some bad memories for me.”
Cordell has bi-monthly checkups and has to undergo CT scans every four months to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. He’s been told that there is a less than 10 percent chance that the disease will reappear.
For now, he’s focused on trying to win a South Atlantic Conference title. It would be another memorable date in his life.