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Duke football’s Koppenhaver reflects on career that cancer nearly cut short

first_imgSharon Koppenhaver knew something wasn’t right with her 10-year-old son, Davis. While playing sports, he wouldn’t sweat and his face would turn gray instead of the typical red color. He began snoring loudly while sleeping and his voice changed before hitting puberty. He was more fatigued than usual and even fell asleep at halftime of his youth football game and in between games at a travel basketball tournament.Neither an allergist nor an asthma doctor could figure out the problem.But finally after a few weeks, Jeffrey Birns, an ears, nose and throat doctor, put a camera down Koppenhaver’s throat and found a golf ball-like tumor blocking 90 percent of his airway. “They said that if they would have found it two weeks later, I probably would have died in my sleep,” Koppenhaver said.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe tumor, which was later found as cancerous, was removed five days after Birns found it in December 2006. It all happened so fast that it seemed like a blur for Koppenhaver, now a freshman tight end for No. 22 Duke (7-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast). Though he only has one catch in four games this season, he’s enthusiastic about his future with the team because of what he’s already overcome.When he was diagnosed, Koppenhaver played football, basketball and baseball. He was in the middle of his travel basketball season and played in four games at a tournament the day before the tumor was found.Looking back, doctors were surprised he didn’t collapse on the court.Davis’ cancer had rarely previously been found in a child’s throat before, which added to the uncertainty of the situation, Sharon Koppenhaver said. But throughout the week leading up to the surgery, the Koppenhavers decided to keep everything as normal as possible — something they learned from his father’s experience with breast cancer six years earlier.“You can’t dwell on the negatives,” Dave Koppenhaver, Davis’ father, said. “You can’t focus on woe is us, woe is me.”Though Sharon Koppenhaver wanted to stay at home in Southern California before the surgery, her husband, son and daughter all wanted to continue their typical Christmas tradition of visiting friends and relatives in Sacramento, California. They outvoted her, and Sharon Koppenhaver said it worked out for the better because being with family and friends took their minds off the tumor.The night before surgery, Koppenhaver slept over at his friend Brady White’s house. They played video games, watched college football bowl games and SportsCenter and ate snacks just like they had always done.They prayed, too.“As a close friend of his, I was going through the same kind of worries that he was,” White said. “I just wanted to be there for him, just have a good night with him and kind of get his mind off of things.”After the surgery was successful, Koppenhaver just wanted to get back on the court. As a 10-year-old, he didn’t fully understand everything that happened.But over time, Koppenhaver said it sunk in.“I realized that sports don’t define me,” Koppenhaver said. “If someone asked me what my best attributes were before that, I’d probably say athlete or competitor. But now, it’s completely different.”Off the field at Duke, he’s laid back and enjoyable to be around, fellow tight end David Reeves said, and his attitude impressed teammates in the first week of training camp.And while Koppenhaver’s role is minimal at this point in his career, tight end coach Zac Roper said you wouldn’t be able to tell from watching him practice, because he still brings the same energy level and attention to detail as the Blue Devils’ starters. When he was younger, Koppenhaver wouldn’t talk about his cancer experience much. He still doesn’t, but he occasionally brings it up with his parents.As a sophomore in high school, Koppenhaver dislocated his shoulder, which put his athletic career in question again. But after nearly dying years earlier, Koppenhaver got back on the field. “I remember saying, ‘Are we done now?’ meaning football. ‘Are we done with this?’” Sharon Koppenhaver said.“No, I can’t wait to get back out there,” Koppenhaver responded. “Mom, I’m not even supposed to be here.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 6, 2014 at 11:18 pm Contact Paul: [email protected] | @pschwedslast_img

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