Two weeks from now, the local high school football season will officially kick off as Louisa County High School’s football team hosts its annual Midnight Madness.
Varsity football coach Mark Fischer plans to run out of that tunnel at 12:01 a.m., after two stem cell transplants to treat his second bout with cancer.
Fischer returned to the University of Arkansas in Little Rock this week to meet with Dr. Frits van Rhee to run tests on the two procedures.
“This is to test everything and see where I’m at,”Fischer said. “This is to see how the transplants were and see what stage I’m in. Whether I’m in remission, full remission or (the transplant) didn’t do so good. This will hopefully give me some solid information on where I stand with my health.”
The coach will undergo his own version of two-a-days. The rigorous four days of treatment include two to three tests a day. From CT scans to bone biopsies to echocardiograms, Fischer will undergo a full evaluation.
“Just the whole gamut of everything that they deem as necessary,” he said. “Every day is pretty much booked up with appointments where they will poke and prod me.”
Fischer said it’s all worth it though.
“Some of the tests are painful. Sitting in that full-body tube for two hours,” he said. “Fortunately I’m not claustrophobic. Some of them are more fun then others.”
He was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow in September of 2012 while coaching at Saint James High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“Since Sept. 21, 2012, nothing was ever the same,” Fischer said. “I think every cancer patient will tell you the same. The day you got diagnosed, your world is never the same. You just do your best to give it as much normalcy.”
After 10 months of treatment, doctors declared him in full remission before the cancer returned last July, a month before the start of fall practice at Louisa.
He guided the Lions to a 7-4 record in his second tour of duty as coach at Louisa, including a 4A South regional playoff appearance.
Fischer had the first of his two transplants on April 13. He said he spent approximately a month in Arkansas before coming back home.
While there, he and his wife, Kate, tried to remain active by exercising every day at a track outside War Memorial Stadium.
“We decided to be stubborn and go faster,” he said. “Every day prior to the transplant, we’d try to walk about two miles and keep that heart rate up and keep the energy going. They day of the transplant, we were still able to go out there and get a walk in.”
It wasn’t always easy. Fischer said some days were better than others.
“Day 8 and 9 is when the transplant really hits you and you hit your lowest point,” he said. “But we’d go out there and try to get at least a lap in, just do so something positive.”
Doctors encouraged him to sit down and relax after the surgery, but the LCHS coach wasn’t having any of it.
“We’re doing more than they want me to be doing,” Fischer said. “There’s certain things they wish, maybe I’d back off on, but they know after dealing with me a certain number of years, and dealing with my personality, they’re barking up the wrong tree. I can’t sit around and do nothing.”
That means getting back to doing what he was born to do — coaching football. He’s been a regular at summer workouts, including early-morning weight room sessions.
“I believe in getting out here and getting healthy,” he said. “I believe in getting out here with these young kids. If nothing else, that helps the mental part of it.”
The commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed by his players. Jayvon Jackson, a two-way starter said his coach’s presence has been an inspiration for the team.
“We try to keep it all positive because we know coach is a strong man,” Jackson said. “We don’t really talk about (the cancer) much, but when we do, we use him as motivation.”
For the last three weeks, Fischer has taken part in a “minor” maintenance program in preparation for his visit to Arkansas. He takes pills twice a day, has blood work done twice a day and makes sure he eats healthy and gets proper rest.
“I’m trying to get into a routine where your life is somewhat back to normal,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking for, where I don’t have to think about when life was normal. That’s the goal.”
That process starts on July 31 with Midnight Madness.
“That’s what everything was geared too,” he said. “I told my doctors up front, I will be at the first day of practice. I won’t miss football.”
Fischer talked with his doctors and came up with a plan to have the tests done this week. He will miss next week’s team camp at Hampden-Sydney College, but is expected to be on the field on July 31.
“That was the end-all, be-all,” he said. “To be here and give these kids as much normalcy as possible. It’s not fair to them for me to be coming and going. They’ve got to have consistency too.”
Fischer is ready to go.
“I’m slowly starting to get my fire and brimstone (speeches) and screaming and hollering done,” he said. “I feel like the old Fischer’s back. If that happens, you better watch out because some people are going to have some hurt feelings. But some of them look forward to that. They want to experience what it’s like to go through what some of the old timers went through.”
Fischer said he’s learned a lot about himself through this process.
“I don’t think you can have too many highs and let yourself have too many lows,” he said. “You know what you’ve got. It is what it is. You can get bummed about it, but that’s not going to do me any good. I can get premature in my excitement when I’m feeling good, knowing full well that you’re not there yet, don’t get too excited. You’ve got to try and keep an even keel and stay optimistic, stay positive.”
He credits the overwhelming support he’s received from family, especially, his wife and children, Troy and McKenzie.
“I’ve got the strongest wife in the world,” he said. “If it’s hard on me, it’s 10,000 times harder on her because she has to do all the work. The caregivers are the people that don’t get the credit they deserve, because many they go through a heck of a lot. She’s never blinked an eye and she’s always been there on the spot. It’s pretty impressive.”
Fischer has dealt with the disease just like he would an opponent on the gridiron – head on.
“I don’t let the cancer control me,” he said. “I’ve always said that I’m blessed to have gotten the cancer because it’s made me a better man. I’m more of a compassionate person.”
Fighting cancer has given him a new perspective.
“I look at life a little more clearer now,” he said. “A little more fun.”