Jags punter makes quiet recovery from cancer diagnosis

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Jaguars punter Adam Podlesh makes quiet recovery from cancer diagnosis in offseason
Jags punter bounces back from cancer treatment last winter
Posted: November 19, 2010 - 12:08am

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Jaguars punter Adam Podlesh (3) holds the ball for Josh Scobee during a field-goal attempt last Sunday against the Houston Texans. Podlesh revealed Friday that he had a cancerous tumor earlier this year. BOB MACK/The Times-Union
BOB MACK/The Times-Union
Jaguars punter Adam Podlesh (3) holds the ball for Josh Scobee during a field-goal attempt last Sunday against the Houston Texans. Podlesh revealed Friday that he had a cancerous tumor earlier this year.

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By Tania Ganguli

Adam Podlesh talks with scientific pragmatism about the cancerous tumor that grew on his face at the beginning of this year.

He glosses over how scary it was to learn he had salivary gland cancer, the worrisome potential of radiation or chemotherapy — neither of which he ultimately needed.

In fact, the Jaguars punter dealt with his illness this summer with such quiet poise and strength that even many of his teammates have no idea what he went through from mid-February through March.

"When it comes down to it, planning the best course of action, having blind faith and positiveness going through the whole ordeal, having a good outlook on life really put my life in perspective going through that," Podlesh said. "It helped my family through the whole ordeal. It definitely changed all of us forever."

In March, Podlesh was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer after a biopsy on a growth below and in front of his ear revealed the tumor to be cancerous. Podlesh took time away from football to let his body heal and slowly worked himself back into football shape. His illness changed the way he looked at everything: football, life, the small problems that happen day to day.

"He's been a lot stronger than I would've been, I'll tell you that," Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee said. "... He handled it better than most people would have in his situation. He fought extremely hard to recover from anything that he was struggling with and is having a great season."

When he first noticed the growth, Podlesh assumed it was a cyst of some sort and figured he should get it removed. Just in case, he saw an ear, nose and throat surgeon in mid-February. The physician diagnosed it as a tumor, not a cyst, but expected it was benign. A biopsy shortly thereafter revealed cancerous cells.

"I was taken very much aback by it," Podlesh said. "The last thing that you think on a day-to-day basis is getting a call saying you have cancer. It's probably one of the last calls you want to have."

His reaction was to immediately do research on his computer. He called his family members to tell them what he learned. He called an uncle who lives on the West Coast and is a physician. He called his girlfriend, Miranda Walton, who is a registered nurse.

If it got bad, it could have affected the nerves and muscles in his face, the way a stroke victim's face is affected. As with any cancer, there was fear it might spread to other parts of his body. And physicians weren't sure right away if he'd need chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

He had the surgery on St. Patrick's Day at the University of Pennsylvania.

"My family and I still joke about because the surgeon was Dr. Bert O'Malley," Podlesh said. "We said, 'Let's celebrate after the surgery's done, not before.' "

The surgery left him with a scar that begins in front of his ear and goes 3 inches down his neck.

Walton spent the week with him in Philadelphia, making doubly sure his care was top-notch.

It was six weeks before Podlesh got back to punting, which took him right to minicamp. By the end of OTAs, he felt back to full punting strength.

"He has not made any kind of excuses for anything going wrong as far as having a bad punt or having a bad practice for that matter," Scobee said. "He hasn't made any point to bring up the tumor or the cancer or anything like that."

On distance, Podlesh has been middle-of-the-road. His average of 44 yards per punt is 16th in the NFL. But he's only had eight punts returned this season, for a total of 70 yards. That's the third-lowest total in the NFL. Last Sunday, the Houston Texans didn't return a punt.

"Part of your ability to cover kicks well is to have a guy punting back there who keeps his ego in check," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "If he wants to bang it out there and give the return team a good return ball but pad his stats, he can do that. ... I think part of that is we've got an unselfish guy in Pods that does a nice job with what we ask him to do."

Having a high-stress, performance-based job, Podlesh doesn't put the same kind of pressure on himself that he once did. On his face, there's a very physical reminder that there's no reason for him to do that.

"Every now and then, I run my fingers down my scar and say, if I have a bad punt, there's really a lot more important things in this world," Podlesh said.

He and Scobee have talked about doing charity events to raise funds and awareness for cancer research.

Podlesh has an MRI exam once every four months, just to make sure the cancer hasn't returned. He had his most recent MRI on Monday.

All that's left is the barely visible scar.