Temple receiver facing 4th-and-long with cancer

October 31, 1990|By Mike Bruton | Mike Bruton,Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — CARLOS DIAZ, facing the most dreadful opponent anyone could meet, speaks only of winning.

The sophomore wide receiver talks of the day he can lace up his shoulder pads and wear the colors of the Temple University Owls again.

"Football is my life," said Diaz, "and I can't stay away from it."

Fate has torn Diaz, 19, away from the playing field, and though he faces very grim odds, his spirit remains undaunted.

Diaz, who made the team as a walk-on last fall, has cancer of the lymphatic system. The disease has spread throughout his body. Last Friday, he finished the first round of a double bone-marrow transplant at the Vincent T. Lombardi Cancer Research Center in Washington.

While Diaz was undergoing a procedure in which his own bone marrow, harvested and frozen two weeks ago, was injected back into his body, several of his teammates were asking for spiritual and financial support for their ailing friend at a homecoming pep rally on the Temple campus.

Expenses for Diaz's treatment already have reached $300,000. The athlete has no medical insurance and Medicaid will not pay for the procedure, which has been performed on only 68 people.

"They [Medicaid] are saying it's experimental, but it's our understanding they are operating under old guidelines," said Bernadette Tolson, the co-chairwoman of the Washington-based Carlos Diaz Medical Fund. "We have several physicians who say this is not experimental."

Tolson explained that a fund-raising drive is needed because there is no time to go through the red tape to get government assistance.

The treatment requires Diaz to receive two high-intensity doses of chemotherapy, followed each time by an injection of his own bone marrow.

"It's kind of dangerous, it's kind of scary," said Diaz, "but you have to take on something like this head-on."

Diaz, a quarterback and wide receiver at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, found out he had cancer after making Temple's team.

He had surgery and underwent two cycles of treatment and returned to school last spring. The determined athlete attended summer school, and when training camp opened, he was in uniform.

"By August, I was bench-pressing 300 pounds again," said Diaz. "It was just my dedication to football."

Diaz, up until last week, practiced every day and got an opportunity to play a few downs in the Owls' 28-0 victory over Austin Peay on Sept. 15 at Veterans Stadium.

Even with the latest setback, Diaz, a broadcast journalism major, talks of playing professional football and having his own talk show.

"You wouldn't know that anything is wrong with Carlos," said Temple coach Jerry Berndt. "He's unbelievable. I talked to him [last week] and all he was talking about was he was praying for the team."

According to close friends, including his girlfriend, Rachel Brodman, Diaz is concerned that those close to him might be depressed about his circumstances.

Diaz, who is in an isolated, sterile environment and spends his time reading, watching television or playing Nintendo games, said he truly has not been distressed.

"I was only down three times," he said. "That was the first time they told me [of the cancer] and the two times they told me it reoccurred. And it lasted only 10 minutes each time."

Diaz's positive outlook has had a stirring effect on the Owls, who with their come-from-behind 31-28 victory over Virginia Tech on Oct. 20 and a breathtaking 30-27 triumph over East Carolina at last Saturday's homecoming increased their home winning streak to four games.

Reserve linebacker Warren Wilcox, a licensed minister, said, "Usually, on a college level, you have a whole bunch of star athletes with egos and they're all out for themselves. But now they see that one of us is going down and it's become a team thing. We're a team with a cause. He's shown us a living example of courage."

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