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Pitt RB James Conner grateful as cancer goes into remission

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PITTSBURGH (AP) James Conner's spring - much like that of former Pittsburgh teammate Tyler Boyd- included a phone call that changed his life.

Only this one had nothing to do with the NFL draft.

Months of worry and wearying cancer treatments that left the bruising running back exhausted at times ended for the Pitt running back on Monday, when Dr. Stanley Marks told the 2014 ACC Player of the Year his long bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma was just about over.

''He said, `James, everything looks normal,''' Conner said. ''At that point, so much relief went off my shoulders. Now it's back to doing what I love.''

Well, almost.

Conner will have the port in his chest removed on Thursday. Once that heals, he can set his attention back to the career he put on hold when receiving the surprising diagnosis last fall. He anticipates being fully cleared by the time the Panthers report to camp in August.

''It's been the longest six months and the quickest six months,'' Conner said. ''But I had no doubt in my mind.''

Even as he spent hours in a chair alongside other cancer patients. Even as his 21st birthday in May came and went, one he celebrated quietly enduring another treatment cycle.

''It's hard seeing everybody enjoying life, doing the things I can't do,'' Conner said.

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Conner managed to sneak out to Boyd's draft party, where he watched his good friend get selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round. It's a moment Conner himself envisioned before a knee injury in the 2015 season opener and the sluggishness he felt during his rehab turned out to be far more serious.

Yet Conner admits there were some parallels to the anticipation Boyd felt during the draft and the nervous energy coursing through his own body after undergoing a scan on Monday.

''I was waiting on a call too,'' he said. ''This is better than getting drafted. This is my life.''

One Conner is only too anxious to get back to, though his battle in some ways made him more well-known than any of the school-record 24 touchdowns he scored in 2014.

He appeared on ''The Ellen DeGeneres Show,'' where he met Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who returned from his own fight against Hodgkin lymphoma last summer. He threw out the first pitch at the Pittsburgh Pirates season opener and saw his teammates wear (hash)ConnerStrong bracelets while receiving a stream of support from thousands, including Pittsburgh Penguins Hall of Fame owner Mario Lemieux, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn.

Conner tried to use his elevated status to bring hope to others, Instagramming draining workouts on the same day he underwent chemo and going through non-contact drills with the rest of the Panthers during spring practice. He actually gained a few pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame and the pain he feared would be a byproduct of treatment never appeared.

That should make it even easier to put pads on for the first time in nearly a year in August. While he's careful not to get ahead of himself, he's also only too ready to put the most difficult chapter of his life firmly behind him.

''I've got to get back into it,'' he said. ''I feel forgotten about in the college football world.''


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