Against All Odds

By Anthony Pecorella

I thought my story would be just one of playing four years of college ball and then heading for the pros.

Instead, I ended up transferring, returning home, and fighting one of the biggest battles life can throw at you — cancer.

A look back

Football wasn’t always my end-all be-all.

As a kid, I played all the sports, and football was just part of the mix.

Sure, it tugged at my heartstrings a bit more, given that my dad played semi-professional football for the Brooklyn Mariners.

However, it wasn’t enough for me to fully commit to the sport right out of the gates.

That didn’t happen until around fifth or sixth grade.

But once I did, I was locked in.

For my academic and athletic pursuits, I started out in Maryland and accomplished everything I set out to do there.

When I was looking for the next step in life, grad school was on the agenda, and something about the allure of going back home really resonated with me.

I guess it’s true what they say: there’s no place like home, and I was thrilled to join the Stony Brook family.

A new battle

But shortly after, I had to face one of the toughest challenges ever.

In May of 2023, right after my twin sister graduated, I woke up one day with an enlarged tonsil — probably the size of a thumb.

I didn’t make much of it as it didn’t bother me or cause any breathing problems, so I just continued with my practices and activities, getting ready for football season.

When I went in for my annual physical, the doctor took a closer look and after some back and forth, she recommended me to a specialist.

And he just told me that the thing had to come out.

By that time, it was probably the size of a golf ball.

So, on July 20th, they did.

I called up coach and told him that I’d miss a couple of days of practice, but that was about it.

The doctor assured me that whether he had good or bad news, he would tell me in person.

Well, roughly a week later, the biopsy results came back and he called me and mom into the office.

He told us that he had good and bad news.

Bad news, I had lymphoma.

Good news, according to my doctor, if you went to the grocery store and there was an aisle of cancer and you picked one, this would be the one you want. You’re young, you’re healthy, you’re going beat it. 

I was dumbfounded.

I was trying to hold it together for my mom.

And candidly, it didn’t really sink in entirely.

At least not until I started meeting with various oncologists and chemotherapy started.

I had to do multiple rounds of chemo, with the first one starting on August 16th, and the last one on October 23rd.

Thank you, Eli

Through it all, I was fortunate to have Eli by my side.

Eli isn’t the kind of person I’d usually go for when needing strength and guidance.

She was a little girl.

Four years old.

On the same hospital floor.

On my first day, she saw me and said, “Who are you?” I couldn’t manage a coherent sentence, so she answered her own question: “I’m Eli. What’s your name?” I finally answered ‘Anthony,’ and she said, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m the boss of this floor. If you need anything, you come find me.”

Now, I think she’s joking. I also forget that I’m talking to a young kid, and her whole care team is standing behind her, looking at me like she’s not kidding.

When something was needed, Eli was the one to go to.

She was tough, too.

For her, chemo wasn’t something happening to her or a bump in the road on the way to recovery.

It just was.

It’s something she had to deal with at such an early age that she doesn’t know anything else.

I find sadness but tremendous bravery in that.

If Eli was taking all this on and still cheerful, still a light in people’s lives and not complaining, what excuse did I have?

She impacted the lives of everyone she met, and when she passed, yeah, of course, there was sadness, but honestly, I was also happy that she’s in no more pain.

She had cancer when she was just two years old.

Beat it.

And then it came back.

That cancer didn’t have to bring her any more pain, and she could truly rest in peace.

Well, roughly a week later, the biopsy results came back and he called me and mom into the office. He told us that he had good and bad news. Bad news, I had lymphoma. Good news, according to my doctor, if you went to the grocery store and there was an aisle of cancer and you picked one, this would be the one you want. You're young, you're healthy, you're going beat it. I was dumbfounded.

Team Impact 

Stories like Eli’s and my own give me the passion and motivation to contribute to Team Impact, an organization that pairs children with serious illnesses and disabilities with college sports teams.

When I first joined Team Impact, I thought this would just be a cool program to be a part of.

However, it quickly went from college athletes helping kids with their struggle to kids teaching college athletes to be thankful for what they have.

Sure, our days can be hard, but I promise you they’re not as hard as the days that these kids go through.

Their battles inspire and uplift us all to be better, and now that I’m a member of the executive board for the fellowship program, I take these lessons with me and make sure everyone learns them.

Regardless of where my journey takes me, I want to be a light in not only the lives of these incredibly courageous children, but also in the lives of others.

Yes, I’ve gone through a lot.

But it has also given me perspective and character.

And I can’t wait to share this more of these lessons with the Stony Brook community.

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