"I need to see you."

It was my doctor on the other end of the phone, and it felt like it was the last thing I needed on my plate. We were right in the middle of the 2005 football season, and even though it was probably important, I told him I didn't have time.

"Well, I need to talk to you."

That's rarely the beginning of happy news, so I just laid it straight. I was sitting in my football office at Southern Illinois University, and whatever he was about to tell me, I was ready for it.

"Doc, you can talk to me right here. I've got a game plan and I'm not coming in."

"Alright. You have Stage 4 kidney cancer."

Reality didn't set in right away, because I went right back to planning for the upcoming game. I suppose that's because I didn't want to face the reality that I had cancer, but when I came home and told my family the diagnosis, it all set in.

I was going to be fighting for my life, and there was no guarantee at that same time next year I was going to still be around.

Fortunately I had all my family there in the house with me. I had all the kids and my wife there, in addition to my mom who was visiting at the time. As I began my battle with cancer, I received support not only from my family, but from individuals such as our team chaplain, Roger Lipe, along with the prayers and support of so many people throughout the Southern Illinois region. They helped keep my faith in God strong, and even though I was the only one going through the treatments, it felt like we were all in the fight together.

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Title photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Thomas Hager