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UNC WR Tylee Craft Recounts Harrowing Experience With Cancer Diagnosis & Chemotherapy

In March, North Carolina’s Tylee Craft was enduring severe spasms that many thought resulted from a bulging disc in his spine, specifically the L5, the lowest vertebra in the lumbar spine.

Despite dozens of heating pads and countless muscle relaxers — the junior wide receiver never got better.

Amid all his treatments, an elevator ride in the Kenan Football Center with head coach Mack Brown’s wife turned Craft’s football career — and life — on its head.

“I was in the elevator minding my business, and I started having spasms again,” Craft told the ACC Network in a recent interview. “I kneeled down to recover a little bit, and it was just too bad. Ms. Sally Brown was on the elevator with me, and she was freaking out kind of because she didn’t really know what to do.

“We got off on the first floor, and Coach Tim Cross and one of the offensive linemen grabbed me and helped me to the training room. I couldn’t get up by myself.”

Craft was promptly taken to the emergency room, where he and his mother received the devastating news that he had large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma – a rare form of lung cancer.

“I was asleep [during the diagnosis],” Craft said. “My mom started screaming, and I jumped up, and she was like, ‘Not my baby!’ It wasn’t registering it at first. I was just trying to make sure she was straight first.”

Watch Craft’s full interview below:

Although the diagnosis carries a 15 to 57 percent five-year survival rate, Craft admitted that the severity of his disease didn’t set in until he was on the operating table.

“It didn’t process for a while,” Craft said. “It didn’t process until I laid down on the table, and they did a surgery to put a port in it. That’s when it started kicking in.”

With his port administered, Craft immediately began undergoing grueling hours-long chemotherapy sessions. During his first treatment, he started having complications.

“My process was I had five hours of chemotherapy,” Craft said. “My first chemo treatment, I started spasming up there, and I was laying on the floor. One of the nurses came to me and was like, ‘Is everything ok?’ and I said, ‘Well.’ They wound up grabbing a chair and taking me to a different room, and that’s when [the treatment] actually started.

“I wasn’t supposed to be getting treatment at that point. They just rushed it because I was spasming so bad and couldn’t even lay down.”

In response to his diagnosis, Brown dedicated UNC’s spring game to Craft and several other cancer patients. Although the game was played a day after his port was put in, Craft attended and broke down the huddle.

“It meant a lot,” Craft said. “There were a lot of kids there with their own issues going on, so I didn’t want it to be just about me. I wanted it to be about all of us at the same time.”

Still battling cancer, Craft has two things in mind: “I’ve set goals. First, to beat it. Then, get back on the field.”

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