After lung surgery in November, Casey O’Brien had only just begun fully practicing with the Gophers again in Tampa, Fla., ahead of the New Year’s Day Outback Bowl.
Within a week of that game, though, another set of scans revealed another setback for the junior holder.
O’Brien had gone nearly two years cancer-free from an ongoing battle with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer he has had since age 13. O’Brien’s story gained national attention after he gave a speech at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon last July and then appeared on “ESPN College GameDay” and won the Disney Spirit Award.
But the week of the Gophers’ final regular-season game, vs. Wisconsin for a chance at the Big Ten championship game, a routine scan showed a spot on one of his lungs. The resulting four-hour surgery caused him to miss that game and most of the bowl prep.
While he recovered in time for bowl week, a two-month follow-up from that November surgery showed another spot on his other lung, necessitating weekly chemotherapy treatments lasting about six hours each.
In early March, the tumor had shrunk enough for another surgery. More tests earlier this week indicated stable results, just a couple small spots to monitor in scans in July.
This has made O’Brien a five-time cancer survivor, having endured at least 20 surgeries and five rounds of treatment in about seven years. Yet he’s still been working out throughout his latest bout.
“I’ve got to be ready to go for the summer because I am competing for a starting spot,” O’Brien said Wednesday. “So I kind of always had that as my end goal is just keeping my body in the best shape I could to get back playing football.”