MIDWEST CITY — Carl Albert defensive coordinator Mike Corley was just finishing his 35th round of radiation treatment and his third go of chemotherapy. Corley was about as low has he had been in the few months since he was first diagnosed with cancer.
“Mike was kind of down that particular night when the kids heard someone outside,” Corley's wife, Teah, said. “We opened the door, and there was about 12 to 15 football players walking up to our door.”
They brought Mike Corley a backpack, prayed with him and just spent time with their coach.
The players couldn't have known just how much it meant. And it came at the perfect time.
“You look back on your teaching and coaching, and you hope you influence kids in the right way,” Corley said. “As a young coach, you start out and you think that it's all about winning, but you find out real quick it's not. It's about the influence that you have on them.”
Corley has been continuously reminded of that influence since he was diagnosed, after discovering a lump on the side of his neck.
Sharon Corley, Mike's mother, said these reminders are some of the little blessings that come from anything — even something as dreaded as a cancer diagnosis.
She should know. Sharon has been living with cancer for a decade and done plenty to show her son how to handle the ordeal.
“It was the hardest thing I've ever done, hearing that he had cancer,” Sharon said. “I would've gone through it 100,000 times for him not to have to go through it. I think I went through it so I could help him.”
One of the blessings of Sharon's diagnosis, in addition to helping Mike prepare for his own treatment, has been the additional time spent with her children and grandchildren.
Sharon and Bob Corley still live in Pawhuska, where Mike was raised, but they come to Oklahoma City every three weeks for treatment at OU Medical Center.
The trips allow them to see Mike's daughter, Blythe, play softball for Carl Albert or his son, Cline, play football for the middle school.
One of the first things Mike Corley did after the diagnosis was to walk to Carl Albert head coach Gary Rose's house.
Rose lives near the Corleys and hired him nine years ago from Duncan.
“We sat out on the patio and cried together,” Rose said. “When you hear the ‘C' word, you immediately think you might die from this. We talked about that, our faith and his mother.”
Rose knew what cancer could do. His mother died from breast cancer when Rose was in his early 20s, five years after she'd been diagnosed.
Radiation and chemotherapy treatments zapped Corley of energy.
He stayed home this summer while the Titans went through their weightlifting program.
Every day during those lifts and when practices began, Corley was remembered, though.
The players had wristbands made up with “Coach Corley” on one side and “Isaiah 41:10” on the other.
Corley opened his Bible shortly after the diagnosis and landed on the verse. It's become a near-daily prayer for the Titans.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
The chemotherapy made him nauseous. The radiation first irritated his throat, then forced him to eat through a feeding tube and eventually made even breathing a chore.
He lost 35 pounds through the process.
“I probably could've stood to lose about 20,” Corley said. “I'm back to my high school wrestling weight.”
Since treatment ended in early August, Corley has felt progressively better.
For the last two weeks, he's been eating through his mouth. Food is regaining its taste.
“We had incredible support from everybody,” Teah said. “The quarterback club, the administration and coaches there at Carl Albert, his work, my work. We always had a meal it seemed like.
“The bad part of it is Mike couldn't enjoy all the food we had. We froze some of it so Mike would get to taste it when he was able to again.”
Mike made it up to Carl Albert when he was physically able. He started coming to meet with coaches, and then went out for the defensive portion of practice.
He's coached the first two games from the press box.
This week, he's returned for half-days at school. Corley arrives in the morning and returns home for rest before football practice.
Next week, he hopes to return to work full time. Corley wants to coach from the field in the Titans' district opener against Deer Creek.
Next Thursday, he returns to the doctor to determine the next course of action, likely surgery to remove what remains of the lump.
Corley said the mass was the size of a “Titleist golf ball” when treatment started. It has been reduced to the size of a dime.
“They feel pretty confident about it,” Corley said of his doctors. “We're praying (the remaining mass) is not cancerous, but if it is, we'll just keep attacking it.”
A part of that talk with Rose immediately after the diagnosis centered on the example Corley had a chance to set for his players.
“That's what football teaches you, to get through adversity,” Corley said. “Coach Rose said: ‘You're going to get an opportunity to prove that you can do what you've been coaching them to do. You're going to have adversity and you're going to have to get through it.'”
Class 5A No. 9 Carl Albert (0-2) at No. 8 Duncan (1-1)When: 7:30 p.m. Friday Where: Halliburton Stadium, Duncan Scouting report: Carl Albert is 0-2 for the first time since 2005, when it went 5-6. ... The Titans have beaten the Demons in each of the last six seasons, including a 30-27 in overtime during the 2010 season. ... Duncan held Weatherford to less than 200 yards of total offense last week in a 12-7 win.