HOUSTON (AP) – Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has received a clean bill of health after a 10-month battle with two forms of cancer.
The 77-year-old McNair opened up about his ordeal on Thursday at a news conference attended by family members and his treating physicians at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
"In the past, if you mentioned cancer, people thought it’s a death sentence," McNair said. "That’s just not nearly the case."
McNair says he’s dealt with skin cancer for about 20 years. He traces the condition to his youth, when he incurred severe sunburns working as a life guard on a beach in the time before protective sunscreen. He’s been seeing a dermatologist regularly for two decades and says he’s had a handful of minor procedures to remove non-cancerous growths on his skin.
About six years ago, McNair was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a form of the disease that originates in white blood cells in the bone marrow.
Last fall, McNair noticed another tiny growth behind his left ear and visited his dermatologist again. This time, the growth was cancerous — a squamous cell carcinoma.
McNair underwent surgery on the left side of his head, but the cancer soon returned and in an aggressive form. Dr. Michael Keating, one of McNair’s doctors at M.D. Anderson and a CLL specialist, said the CLL helped the cancer’s progression by weakening McNair’s immune system.
The doctors recommended radiation and chemotherapy and McNair endured 33 rounds of radiation over six weeks and chemotherapy for four.
McNair underwent proton therapy, a cutting-edge form of radiation in which cancerous cells are directly targeted, reducing the impact on surrounding cells. Dr. David Rosenthal, a professor of radiation oncology at M.D. Anderson, said the FDA-approved therapy reduces the toxicity and other risks of radiation and is becoming a standard of care for children.
"The good news is these things can be dealt with," McNair said.
With his immune system compromised more during treatments, McNair was told to avoid public contact. He was already keeping his condition as private as possible, not wanting to create a distraction or fuel rumors.
The Texans muddled through a 2-14 season in 2013 and in the midst of his health situation, McNair fired Gary Kubiak and hired Bill O’Brien as head coach in January.
While undergoing treatments, McNair kept in frequent touch with the team by phone with general manager Rick Smith and his son, Cal, the team’s chief operating officer. McNair told his players about his situation before organized team activities in May.
"He’s always about the team," star receiver Andre Johnson said. "When he sat down and talked to us as a team, all he could talk about is how much he loves football and it’s something that he loves being a part of and he wants to win."
McNair started feeling the effects of radiation and chemotherapy after four weeks. But McNair said he never really suffered severe symptoms, managing them with medication and the herb turmeric on the advice of former Texans trainer Roberta Anding.
"I was fortunate because everybody said you’re really going to feel so bad from that," McNair said. "That was not the case."
In April, a CT scan showed that the skin cancer was virtually gone. Another test on Monday showed similar results. He first publicly talked about his situation with the Houston Chronicle.
"At this point in time, it’s history," McNair said of the skin cancer.
McNair said maintaining a positive outlook was a factor in his recovery. A billionaire who made his fortune in the energy business, McNair pointed out that his treatment has been covered by regular health insurance and available to most cancer patients.
"I think, with some people, it (cancer) frightens them and they don’t seek treatment," McNair said. "The message is, there is treatment. We’ve got great facilities here (in Houston), we have people who will take care of you and deal with these illnesses with great success."
McNair has relayed that message to David Quessenberry, an offensive lineman diagnosed with lymphoma in June. The team has launched a T-shirt campaign in an effort to raise $100,000 for the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
While his skin cancer is in remission, McNair is not cancer-free. The CLL remains, although he said his white-blood cell count is near normal range.
But McNair is easily optimistic, pointing out that his father lived to be 102. But now, he’s forced to take a lesser role in the football operation, turning over more responsibility to Cal.
"We’re in terrific shape," McNair said. "I’ll continue being the CEO and continue doing everything I can to put together a winning football team, that’s what we’re all about. We’ve won this other battle and now we’ve got to win the battle of football.
"I go to all the games and I’ll plan on continuing doing that," McNair said. "I think I will enjoy it more and leave it to other people in the organization to worry more. I’ll skip the worrying and take the enjoyment."