Payton, Piccolo, Cancer, And Why I Can’t Stop Watching 'Brian’s Song'

Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

I don’t remember the first time I saw the movie “Brian’s Song” or heard of Brian Piccolo and I don’t remember the first time I watched Walter Payton carry a football. I remember being a kid for all of those events. Little did I realize what a huge impact those events would have on my life.

Like most guys that are interested in sports, I was never afraid to admit that I cry whenever I watched “Brian’s Song”. I also was never shy to say that there was no athlete I enjoyed watching play more than Walter Payton. He was my childhood hero.

Little did I realize that I would have something in common with both Piccolo and Payton. No, I never became an NFL running back. I got to share in something off the sports field. Like Piccolo and Payton, I had cancer.

Brians song blog

I don’t like to compare types of cancer and I am not going to start doing that now. Piccolo was diagnosed with, and later died from, embryonal cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of germ cell testicular cancer, first diagnosed after it had spread to his chest cavity. He was 26 years old. Payton at age 45 had a rare autoimmune liver disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis, which may have led to his cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer).

I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at age 33. I went through surgery, 6 months of chemotherapy, and am now 13 years cancer free. 6 years prior to that, I had an acoustic neuroma brain tumor which took away most of my hearing.

Since then, I have become active in the cancer community and have seen first hand how cancer impacts families. I have seen people of all ages, with various types of cancers, have different results with no rhyme or reason involved in the outcome. Cancer doesn’t play favorites.

I was never much of an athlete growing up. After I finished chemotherapy in 2002, I decided to give running a marathon a try. I am far from fast but I have since finished 22 marathons and I even did an Ironman to celebrate my 5 years cancer free.

I have been told by many people that I am an inspiration to them because of everything I have been through. Truth be told, I am just struggling to survive the same as Piccolo and Payton were. Just like every other person affected by cancer.

When I watch "Brian’s Song" now, I feel his struggle. I feel the sting when Piccolo hears “You have cancer” and I feel his struggle during treatment. I felt that same sting when I heard about Walter Payton having cancer.

As my time being cancer free continues to grow, Lord willing, I tend to feel disconnected to the cancer community at times even though I am involved in numerous organizations. Thinking about Walter Payton, Brian Piccolo, and watching Brian’s Song, inspires me to fully appreciate every moment I am breathing. I have 2 Chicago Bears jerseys. Payton’s #34 and Piccolo’s #41. I am honored to wear them both.

When any of my training for marathons gets hard or I am having a rough moment in life, I need to think about the thousands of cancer patients going through treatment every day. I need to think about all of the people of all ages that had cancer that are no longer here.

I also need to think about all the people supporting those with cancer. Nobody goes through cancer alone. Their friends, co-workers, families, kids, spouses, all go through it with them. Walter Payton, Brian Piccolo, and “Brian’s Song” are all proof of that.

I have no idea why I am cancer free while Piccolo, Payton, and countless others had very different outcomes with their cancer. I do know that I will try to honor them and all other cancer patients with everything I do.

Most importantly, I will try to give glory to God. Without my faith in Jesus Christ to lean on when times get tough, or don’t make sense, I don’t know where I’d be.

Coach George Halas: Brian Piccolo died of cancer at the age of 26. He left a wife and three daughters. He also left a great many loving friends who miss and think of him often. But when they think of him, it's not how he died that they remember - but how he lived. How he did live!

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.

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Steve DeLuca is a 13-year, stage 3 colon cancer survivor, acoustic neuroma brain tumor survivor, 22-time marathon finisher, 2007 Ironman Wisconsin finisher, happily married father of 4, and a follower of Jesus. Not all in that order.

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