Just a little more than five months ago, I walked through the door of Brookstone football coach Blair Harrison’s office and entered into one of the most somber conversations I have ever had.
In about a few weeks, near the end of the summer, Harrison had gotten married, found out his wife, Krissy, was pregnant and was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Professional and positive, it almost felt like he was laying out some bare-bones bit of football strategy as he explained the ways his life was so rapidly taking an entirely new shape.
Wednesday, as Harrison said his chemotherapy treatments were over and his most recent PET scan showed he is cancer-free, it was almost hard to believe that conversation in late September ever took place.
Harrison was again relaxed at his desk and surrounded by shelves full of football helmets and walls lined with framed newspaper clippings, and the long whiteboard hanging on the longest wall in the room was full of orderly notes on game planning. Outwardly, at least, little appears to have changed.
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Harrison said his recent prognosis has put back all the energy the cancer treatments zapped out of him but that some things are, in fact, different.
“Every day I get up now, I’m thankful,” Harrison said. “I’m thankful now that I’m healthy enough to get back to working with the kids and feeding off their enthusiasm. I haven’t been this excited to get back to coaching since my first season ever. I’m just that excited to be able to get back to work.”
The snapshots I had of Harrison as he went through treatment were scattered and didn’t tell the story of how tough it was between October and Jan. 31, the day he underwent his final chemotherapy treatment. I saw him tired but coaching with what I thought was his usual intensity through much of the fall, and my visits to his office merely bookended a long, draining process that only cancer patients and those close to them fully understand.
The six rounds of chemotherapy, one every three weeks, left him reeling and ill for the first two weeks afterward and feeling tantalizingly close to normal in the third before it all started over again. He was missing work on the bad days, pushed through it on the better ones and tried to stay focused on football while maintaining a positive exterior he hoped rubbed off on his athletes.
By the time Brookstone met Greenville in the regular-season finale on Nov. 5, Harrison said he likely could not have gone on had the Cougars won or had some help from Marion County to advance to the playoffs.
“By the Greenville game, I was going down,” Harrison said. “I hated that we lost, but it was going to be really tough on everybody. It never feels good to have the season end, but I don’t think I could have gone on any longer.”
Harrison said he has had as good an outcome as could be expected, but his life has not fully returned to normal. He said he worries about getting his energy back when, in about two months, his wife is expected to deliver their son. And he isn’t in the clear from the cancer, which his doctors have told him could return any time in the next two years.
But Harrison said he is good at forgetting the bad things and already is looking forward. The good stuff, though, that’s going to stick with him.
“Words can’t describe how good this community has been to me and my wife through all of this,” Harrison said. “I’ll never be able to thank them for everything they did. All I can do is just try to be there if somebody else needs me. Hopefully, I can help them as much as other people helped me and be as positive for them as everybody has been for me.”