Many fans are wondering how James Conner is going to handle the Steelers starting running back duties, but Conner’s fight with cancer has put everything in perspective. Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2015 which the American Cancer Society refers to as “cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes…part of the body’s immune system.”
According to Yahoo Sports, Conner was diagnosed with the disease while recovering from a torn MCL. After a trying 2015, Conner returned to action in 2016 and rushed for 1092 yards along with 16 touchdowns for Pitt in his final college season. On May 23, 2018, Conner announced on Twitter it was his second anniversary of being cancer-free and posted Bible verses he read in a devotional when he was initially declared cancer-free. Conner posted the following excerpt inspired by Colossians 2:2-3 and Isaiah 33:6.
Approach each new day with desire to find Me. Before you get out of bed, I have already been working to prepare the path that will get you through this day. There are hidden treasures strategically placed along the way. Some of the treasures are trials, designed to shake you free from earth-shackles. Others are blessings that reveal My presence: sunshine, flowers, birds, friendships, answered prayer. I have not abandoned this sin-wracked world; I am still richly present in it.
Search for deep treasure as you go through this day. You will find Me all along the way.
Conner Noted He Chose Not to Fear Cancer
Conner made a strong statement in 2015 when he announced he had been diagnosed with cancer. He emphasized that he wanted to fight the disease, which he would eventually be victorious against.
“When I heard those words–`You have cancer’–I admit I was scared,” Conner said in 2015 per Pitt Athletics. “But after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that fear is a choice. I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it and I will win.”
An NFL Network feature noted Conner was given the opportunity to have private treatments given his notoriety, but the running back wanted to be around other patients. Doctors initially found a tumor around his heart, and Conner is now more than two years past being cancer-free. During his fight, it was well-documented that Conner tried to encourage others with cancer whose struggles were not as public as his.
During the 2017 NFL draft, Conner was selected in the third round by the Steelers. He was not too far removed from being one of the best running backs in college football. Conner rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2014, and now looks like he is returning to the player fans saw early in his college career. When people talk about the pressure of taking over for Bell, Conner shrugs it off.
“[People] are not in my shoes,” Conner explained to ESPN. “They might think it’s pressure, but to me it’s just football and doing my job. We’ve been here 8-to-5. It’s just my job. The outside world thinks it’s pressure, but it’s just football. It’s always been that way.”