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Long-time coach fighting a different battle

University High baseball Coach Chris Conlin was diagnosed with cancer last month, just days after the death of his father.

October 29, 2011|By Joe Haakenson, Special to the Daily Pilot
  • Chris Conlin with his daughter Kimberly.
Chris Conlin with his daughter Kimberly.

University High's Chris Conlin was diagnosed with cancer last month, but the long-time high school coach is maintaining a positive outlook in an effort to beat it.

Conlin, University High's baseball coach for the past 23 years, learned he had squamous cell carcinoma in his neck in September. He had surgery to remove the mass soon after and just this week began a seven-week program of radiation and chemotherapy therapy.

Conlin is still at school for now, continuing his duties as co-Athletic Director and an assistant coach on the varsity football team. He's handing over the offseason baseball workouts to his assistant coaches Mike Gerakos and his son, Kevin Conlin.

It's been a lot to absorb for Conlin, 58, but Conlin seems more concerned about those around him.

"What made it worse is that my dad passed away on Sept. 19 at the age of 90, and two days later I found out I had cancer," Conlin said. "I'm not so much worried about me, but for my wife and two kids, that's a lot to digest in a short time."

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Conlin's situation is eerily similar to University's football Coach Mark Cunningham, who also serves as co-Athletic Director. Cunningham was diagnosed with throat cancer last year, missed about half of last year's football season, but has been given a clean bill of health and is back to work.

"The good part is that I'm a sounding board for him," Cunningham said, "for what he can expect and how to handle it."

It was Cunningham who implored Conlin to get checked out.

"About six weeks ago I was shaving and I felt a bump in my neck," Conlin said. "I didn't think it was anything for a couple of weeks, but then I showed Mark, and he said 'Oh my gosh, it's really bad.' He told me to please check it out."

Conlin went to the doctor and was initially diagnosed with a cyst by a general practitioner, who also recommended Conlin see a specialist. The specialist didn't seem overly concerned initially, according to Conlin, but ordered a biopsy.

"It was the same night we played Estancia (in football)," Conlin remembered. "I had a biopsy at 5:30 and the game was at 7. They hit a spot and it kind of exploded, so he explained he was 99 percent sure it was a cyst.

"Then I went to the game and we won, so I was happy. But I went back to the specialist on the following Tuesday and he said he was 90 percent sure it was cancer."

Conlin had surgery a few days later to remove the mass.

"They feel they caught it in the early stages," Conlin said.

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