Father's breast cancer inspires Eagles' Kurt Coleman

Posted: October 23, 2012

Kurt Coleman understands toughness, and it's not just the kind you see after a collision so intense his helmet flies off. Some toughness runs deeper, and he saw it after a conversation he had with his father in November 2006, when the Eagles' starting safety was a freshman at Ohio State.

Ron Coleman, an assistant principal and basketball coach at a high school in Ohio, felt a lump in his left chest that autumn. He was 56. He initially thought it was fatty tissue, but his physician wanted it examined.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Ron underwent a left breast lobectomy. He was suffering from Stage 2 breast cancer.

He needed to tell his son. Kurt Coleman initially laughed at the news. Kurt wanted his father to stop joking.

"Because honestly, I didn't know males could be diagnosed with breast cancer," Kurt said. "That moment, it kind of went from funny to serious in two seconds."

Ron pledged he was going to beat cancer. He insisted that he became a cancer survivor at the diagnosis. He was intent on maintaining a strong mind because the ordeal of treatment and recovery can erode one's spirit as much as one's body. Soon after the lobectomy, on a Friday, Ron underwent a radical left breast mastectomy. By Monday, he had returned to his desk. He never missed a day of work, never missed a 5:45 a.m. basketball practice.

"What I didn't want to have happen was have anything that was happening to me interrupt anything that was going on in anyone else's life, be it my students, my family," Ron Coleman said.

Kurt heard Ron recount this story last week and shook his head in amazement, even though he lived through it.

After Ron's surgery, he told Kurt it was the most painful thing he had ever endured. The son thought about football practice and realized, "This isn't rough, this isn't bad." Compared to that, his violent collision with Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson in the season opener was nothing.

Now Kurt is one of the many Eagles wearing pink during October. He wears pink shoes, pink gloves, and has a pink towel hanging from his waist.

Last season, Ron Coleman was honored during an Eagles game against the New York Giants and made an announcement on the big screen at Lincoln Financial Field. Quarterback Vince Young was the first of a handful of players who approached Kurt and asked about his father's breast cancer. Ron's story didn't just educate Eagles fans - it also educated Eagles.

During the following week's home game against the San Francisco 49ers, Kurt honored his father on the stadium's screen. It was hard to find Kurt on the field because he had been benched. Ron was touched by his son's gesture, but it pained him to see Kurt missing from the defensive huddle. Kurt said his father's strength helped inspire him, and he regained the starting spot two games later against the Washington Redskins. Kurt swiped three interceptions that day and has not missed a start since.

When Kurt was down, Ron Coleman would not allow his son to sulk, telling him: "I don't have a bad day, I only have bad moments." Kurt tried to one-up that motto by often reciting, "Have a bad day tomorrow."

Since Kurt became a surprise rookie starter as a seventh-round draft pick in 2010, the Eagles spent a second-round pick on a safety (Jaiquawn Jarrett) and signed veterans who started elsewhere. But Coleman has remained a fixture in the Eagles defense.

Coleman was responsible for blown coverage on a touchdown pass in a 27-6 loss to Arizona in Week 3. He is slighter than a typical strong safety, but his on-the-ball skills and hard hitting have made him the best starting option. Plus, Coleman is one of the few vocal leaders on the Eagles defense.

"Nobody is going to challenge me more than myself," he said. "If I made a mistake, I know exactly when I made it, how I made it, and exactly what I need to do to correct it."

As long as Coleman has a roster spot and an NFL platform, he wants to use it to discuss more than football. He started a charity to promote breast cancer awareness, including male breast cancer.

Kurt's initial reaction to hearing his father's diagnosis was not uncommon, and the first step is educating men, he said. Breast cancer is about 100 times less common in men than women, according to the American Cancer Society, and there will be an estimated 2,190 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed among men in 2012.

Six years ago, Ron Coleman went to bookstores looking for information and was directed to the women's section. His online search for extensive information was fruitless, he said. In nearly six years since he was diagnosed, he has met only six men with the disease.

In July, Ron visited San Diego for a National Breast Cancer Coalition conference to learn about researchers' attempts to cure cancer. In one of the lectures, he asked a scientist if all the mice used for research were females, or if there were any males. Ron was told they were exclusively females.

Two years ago, at a charity walk in Columbus, Ohio, Ron Coleman walked in the breast cancer survivors line. Event organizers did not believe he was a survivor. This past year, he was the honorary chairman. It's that kind of awareness that the Colemans want to promote, and remaining the starting safety on the Eagles helps Kurt further the cause.

"That's kind of the stigma that goes with it: How can a male be diagnosed with breast cancer?" Kurt Coleman said. "Just the awareness and acknowledgment of it, and putting your pride aside to know, I, too, can be diagnosed by something like this."


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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