How do you stop James Conner? Simply put, you don’t.
During his Junior year and at the height of a successful collegiate football career at the University of Pittsburgh, Conner was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
He began chemotherapy for this life-threatening disease at the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. With Dr. Stanley Marks as his physician, he persevered through a grueling course of treatment while continuing to work out with his team. Football drills, weightlifting, and team meetings remained part of his life during his battle with cancer. He even practiced with a surgical mask on to prevent infection.
James was determined not to let cancer determine how he lived his life. With a world-class team of cancer experts behind him, he proved to be unstoppable. He also inspired thousands of people through his actions and his attitude.
When asked about his plans for the future, his response was resolute, “I choose to not fear cancer. I will play football again.”
Throughout the six months of intense chemotherapy, side effects, and overwhelming emotions, James developed lasting relationships with his fellow patients, as well as with Dr. Marks and his team. They shared stories, words of encouragement, and were just there for each other.
“This may sound crazy but in some ways, I am grateful to cancer, because having it brought many great people into my life,” James said. “I am grateful to Dr. Marks and the staff for saving my life. While I pray the cancer is gone forever, I know Dr. Marks will always be a part of my life.”
In May 2016, James received the gratifying news that he’d beaten Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He returned to the University of Pittsburgh for another season and went on to receive the 2016 Disney Sports Spirit Award, the Maxwell Club Thomas Brookshire Spirit Award, and the Brian Piccolo Award. To mark his strength and bravery, he became the first recipient of the James Conner Courage Award at the 2016 Stanley M. Marks Golf Classic Dinner. He wasn’t finished. His lifelong dream was about to come true.
In spring of 2017, James received another life-altering call, this time from Mike Tomlin, head coach of The Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin informed James that he was selected as the team’s third round draft pick.
Today, you can see James as he returns to Heinz Field – not as a Pitt Panther or a cancer patient – but as a Pittsburgh Steeler and cancer survivor.