Article Last Updated: 04/19/2008 12:23:10 AM CDT
It started with migraines, then neck pain. Kenechi Udeze was in Idaho visiting his wife's family. People get migraines. They suffer from neck pain. He didn't think too much of it. Thought it was a sinus infection, so he went to see a doctor. It was there, in a doctor's office in Idaho, that Udeze heard one of the most jarring words imaginable.
"I was almost like in a shock," the Vikings defensive end said. "I was sitting down on the table in the doctor's office, and the doctor said, 'I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it looks like you have an acute form of leukemia.' So I sat there for a second, and I hopped up and said, 'Leukemia? I'm a guy who works out all the time. I don't smoke, consume alcohol.' "
It didn't make sense, Why would it make sense? He was young, strapping, just weeks removed from starting for the Vikings. Leukemia? That cancer that originates in bone marrow? There had to be a mistake.
"The first thing that ran through my head was, 'What does this rudy-poo doctor in Idaho know? I have to get out of here. They're scaring me half to death in here,' " Udeze said.
This was about three months ago. There were more scary moments to come. The doctor was right. Udeze did have leukemia, and it was an acute form. He returned to the Twin Cities and began chemotherapy.
On Wednesday, Udeze got another bit of news from a doctor. This doctor, who works at the University of Minnesota, told Udeze the leukemia was in remission. There were no traces of it in his blood, no traces in his bone marrow.
He ranks Wednesday as the second-greatest day of his life, right after the birth of his 4 1/2-month-old daughter, Bailey. As great days go, he even ranks it ahead of the day he got married.
"I've been waiting a little while to hear those words," Udeze said of being told he's in remission.
"I didn't even know how to take it. I kind of just sat there for a second and I was like, 'OK. All right.' "
He will continue chemotherapy treatments twice a week, hoping the leukemia stays in remission while he prepares for a bone marrow transplant. His older brother, Thomas Barnes, is what doctors call a perfect match for such a transplant, which aids in halting the return of leukemia.
"You really want to do it just in case something would happen where it would show its ugly face again," Udeze said.
He talked for the first time about the disease Friday, showing up at the Vikings' Winter Park headquarters to kick off a 24-hour soccer Marrowthon to raise awareness of bone marrow transplants.
Looking at Udeze, you'd never guess he was sick. He looks like he could step on the field and play. He would like to do that again. But he knows he won't be chasing quarterbacks until after the bone marrow transplant, until after he's feeling like he felt before the migraines and neck pain.
"Whatever comes at you, you have to deal with it," he said. "Of course, I'm going to play. I'm 25 years old. Not to put a premium on football, especially at this time in my life, (but) football is my passion. As soon as I can do it at a high level again, I'll be back."