Featured – Rob’s Story
Just like anyone who has gone through something traumatic, Rob can easily rattle off the dates that changed his life. December 14, 2010 — one day after his 22nd birthday — he had surgery to remove a brain tumor.
Rob Long didn’t think his senior year at Syracuse University could get much better. The Orange were going to the Pinstripe Bowl for the first time and that meant he would get to kick a football through the goalposts for one last game before hanging up jersey No. 47. He had thoughts of graduation and then possibly the NFL. Yet something was nagging at him throughout the entire season. Headaches, a bout of what he thought was food poisoning, sometimes a feeling of being unbalanced. By Thanksgiving of that year, 2010, when he couldn’t shake feeling really lousy, he decided it was time to see a doctor.
Tests showed the unimaginable. Rob had a tumor the size of a peach on the right side of his brain. He was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare form of cancer.
“You go from thinking you have a future in the NFL to wondering if you will make it through the next day,” he said recently, recounting his struggle with cancer.
Like anyone who has gone through something traumatic, Rob can easily rattle off the dates that changed his life. December 14, 2010 — one day after his 22nd birthday — he had surgery to remove the tumor.
What followed was a grueling 16 months, first with chemotherapy and radiation and then a year of chemotherapy. When he gives credit for his successful treatment, Rob talks about a relatively new chemotherapy drug that doctors used. Throughout the ordeal, like any good athlete, Rob concentrated on winning.
“I focused on working out and training, trying to get healthy,” said Rob, who grew up in Downingtown, Pa.
The other motivation was his mother who had lost her father to brain cancer when she was seven and others in her family also battled with cancer. He was so eager to show her he was OK that he only spent three days in the hospital after his brain surgery.
After he was well again he went back to Syracuse University and earned a master’s degree. He also picked up where he left off before his diagnosis with his dream of joining the NFL. He trained and went to football camps. In the end, he realized it was not in his future but was OK with the decision because it was on his terms. “I was done with football because I was done, not because the cancer had decided it,” he said.
Sports are still a part of his life. He now has a job that allows him to interact with athletes and coaches. At his alma mater, he helped start a chapter of Uplifting Athletes. The chapter raises money to help find a cure for the rare brain cancer Rob had. And a regular part of his life now is talking about his journey with cancer. One of the more memorable events was speaking to a room of neuroscientists. Because they don’t meet a lot of patients, his goal was to show them that the end result of their research efforts were real people, with names, faces, and stories to tell.
As for his cancer, here is what Rob posted on Facebook on Dec. 7, 2015: “I’m officially a 5-year cancer survivor. It’s surreal but I’m so thankful for all the support I’ve received. Gonna go have a beer with my dad.”
Family and friends, he says, have become so much more important to him since his struggle. He spends as much time as he can with both. When talking to Rob, and hearing his take on living, it is hard to remember he is only 27.
“Going through the whole cancer thing has changed my perspective,” he said. “In some ways, it was a blessing in disguise.”