| Indianapolis Star
Colts’ Sanchez on diagnosis with cancer
Indianapolis Colts punter Rigoberto Sanchez discusses his cancer diagnosis with the media.
Clark Wade, [email protected]
Even now, not quite three weeks after hearing the words nobody wants to hear – you have cancer – and playing with a malignant tumor and having it removed, even after being told this week that his cancer “numbers are definitely lower” but apparently not completely gone, Indianapolis Colts punter Rigoberto Sanchez is thinking about everyone else.
It started as you’d imagine, with Sanchez learning he had cancer days before the Colts’ Nov. 29 game against the Tennessee Titans but keeping it quiet in the locker room. Colts coaches and medical staff knew, but his teammates? They had a game to play, so Sanchez didn’t tell them.
“I wasn’t looking for any pity,” he says. “I was just going out there to try to help them win a game.”
On Wednesday, 15 days after the tumor was removed, Sanchez returned to practice. Kind of. All he’d say about it was: “I laced up my cleats, but I’m taking it slow, one day at a time.”
One thing Sanchez handled at full speed was his first post-cancer meeting with local reporters, sitting down for the Zoom call in a blue Colts hat, backward, and blue Colts hoodie. Big smile. Looks like the same old Rigo.
“How we doing, guys?” is how he started, and after thanking some folks who reached out to support him – “The list goes on and on,” he said – he brought up a question he knew we’d ask.
“I know you guys are curious about the kind of cancer I had,” he said, “but I’m going to keep that personal, if that’s OK with you guys.”
If that’s OK with you guys…
Sounds like the same old Rigo, too.
Sanchez’s cancer didn’t spread
The cancer hasn’t spread. That’s one thing he’d tell us.
They caught it early, whatever it is – wherever it is – but that doesn’t mean he’s cancer-free. Look, I’m telling you what he said. It sounds promising, with Colts coach Frank Reich saying “there is a chance” Sanchez will punt Sunday against the Houston Texans, but this happened when IndyStar Colts insider Joel Erickson asked Sanchez if he’s “cancer-free:”
“As of now,” he said, “it’s looking pretty good. The numbers are definitely lower. I’m not fully educated on it. Doctors definitely told me it’s looking pretty good. Obviously, I’m going to go one step at a time. It’s looking pretty good, thankfully.”
Repeatedly, Sanchez talked about the people who have reached out, including teammates, former Colts coach Chuck Pagano and “idols that have texted me from around the league, punters and kickers.”
He mentioned three, and immediately felt bad about doing that – “I don’t want to leave anybody out,” he said – but named Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker, Ravens punter Sam Koch and Titans punter Brett Kern.
“I was overwhelmed throughout this crazy process of ups and downs,” he said, “mentally and all of it, but it helped out so much having everybody by my side: Family members, friends, you name it. I could go on for hours.”
And then, Mr. Bright Side that he is, Sanchez said this about landing with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2017:
“It’s incredible how things play out sometimes,” he said. “I could have gone to any other team, but Indiana is where it’s at for medicine.”
Sanchez shares cancer timeline
This thing blindsided him.
Sanchez looks back in hindsight and thinks: Nope, didn’t see this coming. Not until the Wednesday practice before Thanksgiving, when he punted without issue and was preparing for kickoff chores.
“I did a couple of dry swings, and it was feeling kind of weird,” he says. “If I’m a little nicked up, I’ll fight through it. But this was a little different.”
After Sanchez told assistant special teams coach Frank Ross, medical staff suggested a battery of tests, and the results came back quickly: A tumor. Malignant.
The Titans game was days away. With COVID-19 protocols, getting a replacement punter would have been impossible for the Colts. When a doctor told him he couldn’t make it worse by playing, that left just one option.
“I wasn’t going to do that to my team,” he says. “At the end of the day, it (already) was the worst-case scenario. No need to make it a bigger deal than it is.”
No need to make it…
Stop it, Rigo. Quit that. He says those words, and means them, and you wonder how strong one person can be. And then Rigo shows even more strength by giving a glimpse of vulnerability.
“It was a very emotional game for me,” he says of that Titans game, when he averaged 50.8 yards on five punts. “I just had that sick feeling to my stomach. … It was a very emotional pregame. I had a couple moments to myself where I couldn’t hold it in.”
Surgery was scheduled in two days. Was this the last game of his season? His career?
“Your mind starts playing games,” he says, “thinking the worst, but I tell myself: ‘You’re going to be OK, everybody’s got your back.’ Like I said on my post (on Instagram announcing the news on Nov. 30): “It’s always God’s plan. His plan is bigger than mine.”
Sanchez has watched the past two games, resounding victories against the Texans and Las Vegas Raiders, with his wife, Cynthia. She filmed Sanchez doing that thing T.Y. Hilton does after scoring a touchdown – forming his initials with his arms – and put it on social media.
“I was the No. 1 Colts fan these past couple of weeks,” he says.
As for the future, he doesn’t know. Doesn’t seem to have any idea, though he knows his work fighting the cancer isn’t done.
“There’s always more things to do, and I’m going to take it one day at a time,” he said. “I want to be ready for my teammates 100%, whenever that time comes.”
Can’t come soon enough, Rigo, and I feel confident I speak for an entire city. If that’s OK with you guys.