LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Josh Paschal has a new perspective on football and life after surviving a cancer scare.
Prior to the start of his sophomore campaign, the University of Kentucky linebacker was diagnosed with malignant melanoma on the bottom of his right foot, immediately putting his collegiate career on hiatus. The redshirt sophomore underwent four surgeries and received monthly immunotherapy treatments as part of the recovery process that has taken more than a year to complete.
“I feel like this happened for a reason,” he said. “Going through this, I feel like I’m able to help more people and use my platform to relate to people who don’t have the support that I do. When I see someone who doesn’t have (support) or someone to talk to, I can be able to relate to them.”
As a testament to his determination, Paschal made a comeback before the season ended last year. He made a return to the field against Middle Tennessee prior to the end of the season and continued to receive treatment during the off-season and was named Southeastern Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Week following his contributions, which included a key tackle on third down that helped led to a punt against the Blue Raiders.
Although he credits the doctors and medical staff for their guidance, his faith in God played a big role in the rehabilitation process. He also learned to be patient.
“There have been trials and everything, but I had my faith,” he said. “My faith has grown tremendously during this time. All the support I had (from teammates, coaches and family) helped me through everything. I built relationships that I would have never had at the Markey Center.”
The initial diagnosis was an undermining low point for Paschal and he admitted it was hard to watch his “brothers” on the field take part in preseason workouts and get ready for what turned out to be a 10-win campaign.
“Me knowing that I would be out there with my brothers, that really hurt,” he said. “My mom and then my teammates were sending me videos after practice, that really lifted me up.”
It was then he realized a routine practice that seemed to be a nuisance in the past, he no longer took for granted. He drew inspiration daily from his family, coaches, teammates and support staff.
“Anytime I’m around my team, anytime I’m around my family and even when I am at my treatments, they are so positive, even my nurses and doctors, they are so positive and they lift you up. It’s just a happy feeling and everybody thinks like that.”
Paschal said the biggest lesson he has learned through the process is to live in the moment and to the fullest on a daily basis.
“I know that’s what everybody says, but its about the small things, just like being (at Media Day) and being able to walk, smelling the fresh air and taking advantage of the small things in life. I feel like that’s something that we all can take away from (in life) and not get caught up (with things of life). Spend time with your friends, your family and do the things that you truly love.”
Through the process, Paschal said his faith “increased tremendously.”
“I knew what I was going through and I got baptized a couple of months before I was diagnosed and just being able to fall back on that, I had my faith I was able to fellowship with other believers that I became close to," he said. "It was God’s plan for me and for him to use me."
He also received support from offensive line coach John Schlarman, who was diagnosed with cancer around the same time frame last year.
“He would sit with me (at team meals and gatherings) and ask me how I was doing,” Paschal said. “He would give me updates and I would give him updates and we were able to relate (to each other). Being able to relate really helped a lot. It helped the both of us and not get caught up with what was going on (with football).”
Schlarman was impressed with Paschal throughout the entire process.
“We just happened to be going through it together,” he said. “I think having something in common to talk about (helped) … It was good to have someone else to talk to who was going through it, too. I learned a ton from him, how he handled himself, his attitude, his faith and it really taught me a lot. He set an example for me and hopefully in some regard I did that for him a little bit.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.