In late October of this year, Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King sat down with ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen to talk about his battle with cancer.
Over the years, you’ve likely seen Mortensen do work on programs like ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown and SportsCenter.
In the SI article, Mortensen talks about his battle with throat cancer, where the battle is now and what he has learned throughout these difficult times. There are also pictures of Mortensen while he was doing treatment as well as a video version, in a sense, of the interview.
From the SI article:
He might have said it was when a doctor told him, matter-of-factly, in January 2016 that he suspected Mortensen had the most severe and advanced form of malignant throat cancer. Not good for anybody; especially bad for someone whose voice is his living. He might have said when he told his wife, Micki, the diagnosis, and she crumpled to their floor, sobbing, and then ran outside screaming, “Oh God! Oh God!”
But there was something worse. It was about seven months into Mortensen’s treatment, when he wanted to be euphoric, because the last of 35 debilitating radiation treatments, designed to burn away the tumor in his throat, was over. Now maybe he’d finally start the feel like the old Mort, life-of-the-party Mort, needling-Chris Berman-on-the-set-of-“Sunday Countdown” Mort.
No. Doctors told him to prepare to feel his throat cooking for the next one to two months.
“That’s exactly the phrase they used,” Mortensen said. “‘You’re still cooking.’ They said, ‘You’re still cooking for four, six, eight weeks after you’re done [with radiation treatments].’”
More from the report:
Mortensen finished out the year. He is on course to finish out this one. Statistics in cancer are ever-changing because of the advances in the science surrounding the disease, but the survival rate for the form Mortensen had, oropharyngeal cancer, at the stage it was, is about 40 percent. Mortensen’s throat and tongue are clear now, but the cancer has spread to his left lung, where last November doctors found several malignant nodules. More treatment, this time with an IV regimen every three weeks; last week he had his 15th treatment. “I’ve asked how long this will go on, and they say maybe forever,” said Mortensen, 65. “They have to make sure it doesn’t metastasize to anywhere else. Right now, it’s metastasized to my lungs.”
That is the new normal for Mortensen: doctors chasing this insidious disease inside him. It might be this way for the rest of his years.
This is why Mortensen does not like the phrase “beat cancer.” He hasn’t. There he is, looking 85 percent of his old self on TV, and you think, Glad he beat it. “One thing people need to know—Chris still has cancer!” his wife, Micki, emailed just this week.
Mortensen’s path has not been easy. In fact, it has been a long — and grueling — battle, to say the least.
Five weeks of chemotheraphy, beginning in February 2016. Two weeks off for recovery. Two months of chemo and radiation. More time off. Then the cooking. Then the dark moments. “You just make sure your affairs are in order,” Mortensen said. That’s when his faith helped. He’d been a wild child in his early newspapering days; Micki helped lead him to religion. She’d play the quiet preaching of evangelical Christian pastor David Jeremiah often in their home. “I often thought about what Parcells said because it rang true,” Mortensen said. “Though I’d say it’s an attitude I’ve had throughout my life … This is also where my Christian faith served me well, because the Bible tells us we will have troubles in this world but we are to cling to the light, the love and promise of God.”
Unfortunately for Mortensen, an end to treatment doesn’t seem to be in sight.
According to the SI article mentioned above, “There’s no definitive end to treatment for now,” Mortensen said this week. “But my oncologists have been fairly optimistic from the start. I’ve asked how long this will go on, and they say maybe forever. I’m still clean at the original site.”
Where Mortensen stands now (via SI):
You never think of things like that when cancer comes up. It’s all about eradicating the disease. Another issue Mortensen deals with is radiation’s effects on his salivary glands. Mortensen fights dry mouth all the time now. Jim Kelly, survivor of cancer of the jaw, turned him onto lozenges that increase the saliva in his mouth. They help. And he carries a spray to activate saliva in his mouth. When we met recently at his hotel near the ESPN campus, I recorded a 70-minute podcast with Mortensen, then a 25-minute video interview. Then we just talked. He sounded fine. Before I arrived, he had sucked down four of the lozenges, and he used the spray several times when I was there.
On TV, he sounds like the old Mortensen. He looks close to his old self, too, except 20 pounds lighter; and his hair has come back grayer.
“Life’s good right now,” he said.
Final words from the article:
In the Book of Mort, this is the most valuable lesson of the last two years:
“Share the emotions that you feel for people when you have the opportunity. If you love somebody, tell them. If somebody has done something for you, tell them you appreciate it. Don’t let the moment pass you by. Because you never know when you’ll have another chance.”
To read the entire story, make sure to follow this link. The Sports Illustrated article greatly details Mortensen’s battle with cancer, and also shares some of his stories along the way. Mortensen also talks about how he broke the Peyton Manning retirement story, and his reporting on Deflategate.
Mortensen turned 66 on Nov. 7.
Since being diagnosed with cancer, the NFL (and people surrounding the league, such as the players, coaches and owners) has reached out to Mortensen in a big way.