By Mason Crosby
Molly had a cough, and it didn’t sound normal. It almost sounded like pneumonia, but it was the middle of summer. Something just didn’t feel right.
This was right after the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation Golf Classic in June. I have been a co-chair of the event for the last eight years, raising money to continue to fight against cancer. It seems like nobody is exempt—nearly everybody knows a family member or friend or someone who has been affected by cancer. Unfortunately right now in my family, we are seeing too many cases of cancer. My wife Molly’s was unexpected, something we didn't see coming.
On a nightly basis, Molly was having what was almost like an asthma attack. It would get a little bit better during the day, so she put off going to the doctor, but it wasn’t completely going away. She was treated for an upper respiratory infection, and during that process, her doctor here in Green Bay—who is also one of our team doctors—did a chest X-ray. They saw a little spot on her lung, and while they weren’t overly worried, there was some concern. We scheduled a CT scan, and that’s when we knew something was up.
We got a call after the doctors had looked at the results, and they asked us to come in together. That’s when the worry started creeping in as we wondered what was going on. Our friend who is a thoracic surgeon here in Green Bay ran us through what they found: There was a tumor on the lower lobe of her right lung. We learned that your right lung has three lobes and the left side has two; the bottom lobe of Molly’s right lung had a tumor. It was a good-sized tumor, about two centimeters across, tucked in a spot close to her spine and near her heart.
Molly and I are both solution-based people. Once we saw the tumor and realized what was going on, we asked a ton of questions about it, like whether it was metastatic and what were the other major concerns. And then right away we shifted into thinking how we should attack this.
We did a biopsy down in Milwaukee and they found it was a neuroendocrine, or carcinoid, tumor. Luckily, the doctors didn’t believe it was metastatic, so we had a little bit of time to find the best surgeon to do the operation. Two days before I reported to Packers’ training camp, we went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for additional scans and pathology testing. At that moment we had time to sit, just the two of us, before the chaos of training camp, and digest the fact that Molly was going to have a significant surgery. We had tears; we had moments of how is this happening? My wife lives a very clean life; she is a non-smoker, does everything in her power to prevent cancer from happening in her body. Then, we had this moment of connection between us: We are doing this together, we are going to fight this, whatever we need to do, in the best way possible.
We were prepared to do the surgery fairly quickly, but the doctors also found a massive blood clot in the vein going to her ovaries, so they had to put the surgery on hold for a month. They also saw what looked like several small tumors on her liver and wanted to biopsy those prior to the lung surgery as well. She went on blood thinners to deal with the clot, and we scheduled the surgery for the Friday after the last preseason game.
Leading up to the surgery, Molly was tired and experiencing shortness of breath, but otherwise we were rolling in our normal routine. We have five kids, so you can't put life on hold. Sometimes we'd get caught up in the routine and we'd have to sit down and say, “This is really still happening.”
Fortunately, the Packers’ training camp is held in Green Bay, and I had the organization's support to take time and be with my family. But it also felt selfish to be able to come to the facility, be with my teammates and not have to think about Molly’s upcoming surgery for a few hours. I talked to Molly occasionally about how I felt bad that I got to step away from it. Obviously when you are the one going through it, it's not something you can step away from.
My whole existence on the football field is being able to move in and out of situations and really compartmentalize each kick. But the hardest part of this situation was having the right amount of feeling and emotion for what was going on with Molly’s health when I was present with her, and then shutting that off and being locked in and focused when I was at the Packers’ facility. If I was home with Molly and my family, I was fully invested in them, making sure I was supportive and making her feel comfortable through that process—but it wasn’t easy every day. There were times when I would come home and get a few hours to spend with everybody, and I'd still be locked in after a day of competition, and then we'd have emotional moments about what was going on. But I tried to be intentional about being there and being in those moments, and not just shutting off from all of it.
We felt so much support from the Packers organization and our friends and family, many of whom stepped up to help us with our kids. Through the midst of this scary diagnosis and a pending significant surgery on her lung, there was a connection. We had a peace about it, thinking about the wonderful blessings that we did have, and we saw some silver linings in those things.
I was preparing for the last preseason game, in serious competition for my job, the week of Molly’s surgery. She and her dad went up to the Mayo Clinic to do the pre-surgery prep, and her mom stayed in Green Bay with me and the kids. I played in the game Thursday night, jumped on a plane Friday morning and arrived at the hospital when Molly was checking in and doing pre-op stuff. Then she was in surgery a couple hours later. It was a whirlwind. It was a tricky surgery, lasting over five hours, with the spine and heart being close to the tumor. Another reason we picked Mayo was that our surgeon there, Shanda Blackmon, had done a similar surgery before and was confident that she wouldn’t have to take the whole lobe out but could instead do a segmental resection.
The next day, Saturday, was an amazing day. Our surgeon came in and gave us her preliminary post-op report: The pathology looked good, and the surgery went really well. She told us that instead of taking out 25% of Molly’s lung capacity, she only ended up taking out less than 10% of her lower lobe capacity and got the margins she wanted without any infected tissue. That news was so amazing. Then 30 minutes later, I got a call from a generic Packers number, which made my nerves pick up. I looked at Molly and said, “Well, this is either good or bad news, so we are just going to roll with it.”
It was head coach Matt LaFleur with more good news—I was coming back to Green Bay for my 13th season. I gave him a little bit of a hard time because he called from the landline from his office, but honestly what was awesome about the call was we didn't talk much about football. He asked about Molly and how everything went, and that was something really special. GM Brian Gutekunst called next and did the same. I had peace in my heart about my job, I just wanted to make sure my family was taken care of, and I could feel that from the organization as well.
At that point, for the first time in about a month and a half, we sat, took a deep breath (well I did at least… Molly had two chest tubes at that point) and relaxed. Then we could start the next phase in recovery and start the season.
In this job, your life can sometimes become all about the football schedule. It was kind of nice to focus on football during camp, and then focus on home when I was at home. Not saying I didn’t do that before, because I always tried to approach things with that compartmentalized training, but there was a heightened sense of that. With this bigger challenge and more things going on, I really focused on each little aspect and made sure I was dialed in on everything I am trying to accomplish. And also, there’s been a heightened sense of perspective. I am enjoying my teammates and coming into work, and then being full invested in my family. All of those things, that balance, definitely applies to having success on the field.
This has been a crazy season in my family’s life. I previously lost my grandfather to lung cancer in 2004 and my grandmother to uterine cancer in May ’12. Less than a month ago, the day after we played the Chiefs, I went down to Dallas for the services for my great-uncle, who just lost his battle with cancer. And then there is my sister-in-law, Brittany, who has been fighting ovarian cancer for three years now, and they are continuing to try find a treatment that can knock it back. So we are in the midst of it all, but we are fortunate to have the support of each other, and to have deep meaningful relationships that go beyond the disease.
It makes you realize there are so many different types of cancer, how expensive the research is, how expensive it is to fight cancer. I am trying to do to everything in my power to support organizations like the Lombardi Foundation to continue to raise awareness but also raise funds so that people can fight this disease and win. They were a resource for us as we sought out care for Molly. We were thankful we were able to find out what was wrong, and had doctors that ran tests to check. I am going to continue press on as part of the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation team so that everybody has somebody to stand by them when they are going through this and can get the answers they need.
Molly went back up to the Mayo Clinic to meet with her doctors eight weeks after the surgery, and we received great news—they felt really good about the surgery results. They did some bloodwork, X-rays and a scan. As of right now, she doesn't have to do any chemotherapy or radiation treatment. They will now monitor her every three to six months for the next couple years to make sure nothing comes back. We feel so fortunate that as of right now she is cancer-free and cleared for normal activity.
Molly even felt strong enough to come for the second half of the Week 6 Monday night game against the Lions. To have her there, and to have a game like that, and to finish it off the way we did (Crosby kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired)—I couldn’t have asked for a better way to cap off Molly’s recovery.
Cancer takes a toll, but our family’s goal has been to stay connected and not let it overtake our lives and relationships. We don’t let the cancer become our focus, but instead we allow it to shift our priorities by putting the things that really matter front and center in our lives and by being fully present each and every moment with the people who matter most.
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