The text messages arrive on Kevin Curtis' cell phone regularly. Where are you? Are you playing football? A half-dozen NFL teams have wondered the same thing and have tried to sign the seven-year veteran wide receiver.
Curtis, a Utah native who starred for the Philadelphia Eagles before injuries sidelined him most of the last two seasons, has put off signing a free-agent deal this year. At first it was because of a lingering knee injury that didn't fully heal until recently, but then it became something else that he kept secret.
Curtis has testicular cancer.
He underwent surgery Sept. 23 at the Huntsman Cancer Institute to remove a cancerous testicle. He waited until meeting with doctors late Wednesday afternoon to learn more about the treatment and prognosis before going public with his condition.
"Everything looks good," he said. "They caught it early, and there is no sign that it has spread. I'm pretty fortunate, really."
Doctors told Curtis he could either undergo radiation treatments now or report for tests every three months to ensure the cancer hasn't returned. He chose the latter, at least partly because he still hopes to return to football this season. Doctors don't consider it risky to put off the treatments.
Curtis' agent will send a letter soon to all 32 NFL teams to inform them of his client's illness and availability. Curtis has already resumed light training. He can return to intense training in a couple of weeks.
An abnormality was first discovered when Curtis was being courted by a number of teams as a free agent in 2007. A Minnesota Vikings doctor spotted it during a routine physical.
"The doctor brought it to my attention," says Curtis. "I hadn't noticed it. I waited a year till I went to a urologist. He wasn't too concerned. Every six months I underwent an exam and ultrasound. They were saying it's nothing until this summer. The ultrasound revealed there was a big difference. It had grown."
Several weeks ago doctors recommended surgery. Curtis, wanting to play football immediately, sought other opinions, but other doctors agreed that surgery was the next step.
"I wanted to wait until the season was over," says Curtis. "They said it was risky to wait."
Heading into the surgery, doctors couldn't be certain the testicle was cancerous because they are unable to do a biopsy in this area of the body. But he learned last week that he has seminoma, which is considered one of the most treatable and curable cancers.
"This whole time I wasn't positive it was cancer," he said last week. "There was a slight chance it wasn't. I didn't really believe it. I thought, I feel fine. Then when they told me what it was, it hit me — wow, cancer."
Curtis is serious about returning to the football this season. His father, Stuart, called Kevin at midnight two days before the surgery to see how he was doing. He was at the Cottonwood High School track running pass routes and repeat sprints alone with only a full moon for light.
"I asked him what he was doing," says Stuart. "He said, 'I'm just trying to do everything I can to get in shape while I can still work out.' That tells you about his determination to come back."
Says Kevin, "I've just tried to do everything I could think of. I'm putting everything into getting back to football."
Curtis, a graduate of Bingham High, Snow College and Utah State, has been contacted by seven NFL teams since becoming a free agent last spring. The Redskins, Lions and Dolphins called him almost immediately. The Giants, Jets, Saints and Vikings made inquiries during fall camp.
Curtis put them off while he rehabbed a knee injury.
"I didn't want to report to a team until I was 100 percent ready," he said. From his offseason home in Park City, he trained and rehabbed his injured knee. Just when he felt like he was ready to play again, he learned about the cancer.
"I don't know if anyone is interested now," he says. "Teams with issues called and said let us know when you're ready. I was the best option during camp. My agent will send a letter to the teams telling them what's going on and to keep us in mind for an emergency guy. He'll tell them our plan and when I'll be ready. A lot is going to depend on needs."
This is the latest of many setbacks for Curtis since his superb 2007 season with the Philadelphia Eagles. After signing a six-year, $32 million free-agent contract with $9.5 million of it guaranteed, he rewarded the Eagles' investment by catching 77 passes for 1,110 yards and 6 touchdowns. That included a superb game against the Lions in which he caught 11 passes for 221 yards and 3 touchdowns.
But in the two seasons since then, Curtis missed 20 of 32 games, first with a sports hernia and then with a knee injury. The Eagles, having drafted DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, decided to waive Curtis earlier this year to go with the younger players and save the $1.1 million roster bonus Curtis was due to receive as well as his $4.5 million salary.
"Kevin is one of the classiest players I have ever been around," Eagles coach Andy Reid said at the time. "He's the type of player and person we like to build our team with. We just feel good about the young core of receivers we have on our team at this point."
The 32-year-old Curtis, who has 252 career catches and 20 touchdowns while playing for the Rams and Eagles, says this about his football future: "I don't know for sure what's going to happen. I'm prepared never to play again if it doesn't work out, but I want to give it a shot. Even if I don't play this year, I think I would prepare all year and try next year."
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