As an NFL owner, Bob McNair's December of 2013 was about as tumultuous a football month as one could endure.
With his team spiraling downward, losses piling up on a slide that would bottom out at a league-worst record of 2-14, McNair had no other choice but to fire longtime head coach Gary Kubiak after the season's second defeat at the hands of the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars (who would go on to finish two games ahead of the Texans in the standings).
It was a sad time for McNair, who loved Kubiak the person but couldn't bear to watch the product being put on the field by Kubiak the head coach any longer. Again, for an owner, December was what rock bottom looks like.
Little did we know that McNair himself was going through a much more serious, much more grave battle than trying to pick up wins on the football field.
In an extremely thorough, detailed exclusive for the Houston Chronicle, John McClain describes a ten-month battle with two forms of cancer that McNair had going back to 2013, an overwhelming and, at times, brutally painful trek that begins with ground-breaking experimental treatments that McNair endured under an assumed name at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and ends with a recent clean bill of health for the Texans owner.
The aforementioned treatment was for a form of cancer called chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and along the way, McNair was forced to undergo painful surgery on the left side of his head and neck as well as 30 sessions of radiation.
The radiation was so violent that it caused second-degree burns that required a plastic surgeon to perform skin grafts, which explains in part some of the blisters behind McNair's ears and on the side of his head, noticeable to media members gathered around McNair at Texans training camp last week when the team's owner met with reporters to discuss the possible move of the Raiders to San Antonio.
At the time of that informational gathering, McNair had not yet been given a clean bill of health; however, that changed this week:
"I've never been through anything like that, but two days ago, I was given a clean bill of health, so it was worth the pain and suffering," McNair, 77, said Wednesday in his first public comments on his health issues. "I didn't think I was going to die. I knew some did. I knew there were some rumors. That's one of the reasons I'm talking about it.
"I don't want people to think it's something it's not. I'm not ill. I'm healthy. I'm not going anywhere. We've got Super Bowls to win."
McClain's story details how, amazingly, in this day and age, when cameras are present anywhere there's a human being with a phone, McNair was able to keep quiet any discussion or discovery of the whole ordeal:
Because McNair wanted to keep a low profile during radiation treatments at the M.D. Anderson Proton Therapy Center, CEO/Managing Director John Styles Jr. gave the Texans owner a key to the back door and allowed him to use his parking space.
The treatment that McNair underwent at M.D. Anderson is called proton therapy, and, according to McClain, it is still relatively unproven and very costly. It's also, as treatments go, fairly violent, resulting in McNair sustaining second-degree burns on the side of his face during the treatment phase:
"The first three weeks was a cakewalk, but then it got pretty severe. Afterward, it was the peeling and healing. (Oates) did a great job. You've really got to search for (the scar) to find it."
McClain's piece details McNair's battle with cancer, which actually goes back 20 years with skin cancer and which took on a more severe form six years ago when he was first diagnosed with CLL, a cancer that infects the blood and affects one's immune system. According to McClain, it grows more slowly than other forms of leukemia.
The timeline of McNair's treatment goes back to last October, at which time he underwent routine surgery for squamous cell carcinoma, a non-melanoma skin cancer. However, the doctors were not able to eradicate all of the cancer, and it had spread to McNair's pituitary glands.
After surgery that ran along the left side of his head, neck and collarbone, it was determined McNair would need to undergo the painful radiation treatments, which he was more than willing to do to win the fight:
"They determined I should undergo radiation and chemotherapy to be on the safe side," McNair said. "That was the only way they could be sure they'd get rid of the skin cancer cells.
"In May, I had a CT scan and was clean at that point. And two days ago, I went in for a second checkup, and they did a second CT scan of my brain and neck and an X-ray of my chest, and everything's clean.
"We've been successful. I was convinced I'd be cured. I told my family that. It was just something I had to go through. We might have been overly aggressive, but I wanted to make sure we got rid of the cancer cells, and this was the way to do it. Otherwise, there might have been some doubt."
McClain's piece needs to be read in its entirety as it gives unique insight into McNair's faith and resolve throughout the entire process, and when you consider the season his football team was enduring as he began the hardcore portion of his battle with cancer, it's a case study in how to compartmentalize and confront adversity with dignity.
Indeed, regardless of how the Texans' 2014 season unfolds early, football in any form will feel like an oasis for Bob McNair, considering his saga over the past ten months.
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