As he prepared to coach the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday for the first time since concluding leukemia treatment, Chuck Pagano revealed some of the most personal and indelible details of his sudden fight with a life-threatening disease.
As he recounted to Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star, Pagano said the ordeal began in late summer with the mysterious appearance of "deep, dark purple" bruises on his body.
"I had no idea where they came from," Pagano said. "I didn't bump into anything. But like every other hard-headed guy, every coach, I thought, 'It's just a bruise, keep going.' So I didn't do anything about it."
The Colts' first-year coach went to see team doctors, who eventually sent him to a specialist. Dr. Larry Cripe of the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center gave Pagano the bad news that he had leukemia on Sept. 26.
"Then reality set in. I know what I've got; what's this going to entail? What's the game plan and how long?" Pagano told Kravitz. "Give me some numbers and don't BS me. And Dr. Cripe was great about that; he was totally straightforward. He told me it was one of the most curable forms and what I'd have to do to beat it and what the timetable was going to be. 'Now this is what you're going to have to go through, and it ain't gonna be very fun.' "
The physical effects were as daunting as the doctor promised.
Said Pagano: "My wife -- she'd be sleeping on this little couch. She'd ask, 'How ya feeling?' and I'd say, 'I've got nothing today. Nothing.' Some days I could get up and take a sponge bath, and other days it took all I had to go to the restroom or brush my teeth. There were days ... where I slept 20 straight hours. Doing simple things. Things we take for granted became a chore."
But Pagano, the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, fought through it. All along the way, he stayed engaged with the team.
"Practice tapes were the best thing for me," he said. "I wanted to stay as close to this as I possibly could. The team did a great job keeping me engaged. When I was working on football, it took me away from what was going on. It put me in a different place. It helped me forget for a few hours."
The Colts, meanwhile, were providing their own inspiration. Behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and reinvigorated wide receiver Reggie Wayne, they've posted a 10-5 record and grabbed an AFC playoff berth, after finishing 2-14 last season.
Positive vibes everywhere you look. And Pagano wants to keep them going, regardless of how far his young team makes it in this season's playoffs.
"The 'why' got clearer and clearer as I went through it," he said. "I have a higher purpose now. How many (cancer patients) can we help? That's the bottom line. Along with everything else we've got to do as a husband, a father and a coach, I feel now like I've been blessed with a platform. Now part of my responsibility is to give back to people who are going through this."