Joe Paterno has lung cancer, son says

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno watches warm ups before an NCAA college football game against Purdue in State College, Pa., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
November 18, 2011 9:01:58 PM PST
Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno has a treatable form of lung cancer, according to his son.

Scott Paterno said in a statement provided to The Associated Press by a family representative on Friday that the 84-year-old Joe Paterno is undergoing treatment and that "his doctors are optimistic he will make a full recovery."

"As everyone can appreciate, this is a deeply personal matter for my parents, and we simply ask that his privacy be respected as he proceeds with treatment," Scott Paterno said in a brief statement.

The announcement came less than an hour after Penn State said the NCAA would examine how school officials handled a child sex abuse scandal that shocked the campus and cost Paterno a job he held 46 years.

Scott Paterno said the diagnosis was made during a follow-up visit last weekend for a bronchial illness.

Earlier Friday, The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre reported that Paterno had been seen Wednesday visiting the Mount Nittany Medical Center and was treated for an undisclosed ailment and released.

Unlike some cancers, there is no effective early warning system for lung cancer. Because it is often caught at a late stage it is an especially deadly disease.

University of Pennsylvania surgeon Sunil Singhal recites a chilling statistic.

"If 100 people walk in the door and have lung cancer, only 15% will be alive in five years," says Dr. Singhal.

"Anytime I hear someone diagnosed with lung cancer, I feel terrible, because I know the kind of road ahead of them," said Liz Dols.

31 year old Liz Dols of West Chester is a Penn State grad, and an avid athlete. She knows about that tough road; surgery, chemo, radiation. She is part of the 15%. She was diagnosed with lung cancer when she was 26.

But can 83 year old Joe Paterno beat Lung Cancer? There are many variables that have not been made public.

"Those 15% are usually very early stage patients, have very small tumors that have not spread and qualify for surgery," says Dr. Singhal. "If he fits all criteria, he definitely has the ability to beat cancer."

Dols knows the grim Lung cancer numbers, but says people should not be ruled by them.

"Every person is an individual; the statistics might not apply," said Dols. "It's what I learned. I'm not supposed to be here talking to you."

Paterno was fired last week in the aftermath of accusations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who is charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. Critics say Paterno should have done more to stop the abuse that a state grand jury detailed in a 23-page report - in particular one assault in 2002.

Paterno initially announced his retirement effective at the end of the season. But university trustees fired him about 12 hours later, on the evening of Nov. 9.

The lurid scandal has tarnished the reputation of a coach and a football program that once prided itself on the slogan "Success with Honor." The Hall of Famer's 409 career victories are a Division I record. In all, Paterno guided five teams to unbeaten, untied seasons, and won two national championships.

Sandusky was once expected to succeed Paterno but retired in 1999 not long after being told he wouldn't get the job.

Two university officials stepped down after they were charged with lying to a grand jury and failing to report the 2002 charge to police, an assault which allegedly took place in a shower in the football building.

The grand jury report said the attack was witnessed by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time. Now the receivers coach but on administrative leave, McQueary told the grand jury he went to his father first and then to Paterno, who in turn told a university superior but didn't go to the police.

When the state's top cop said Paterno failed to execute his moral responsibility by not contacting police, public outrage built and the trustees acted.

Besides the criminal investigation, the university announced last week it was conducting its own probe before the NCAA said Friday that the organization would take its own look.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said in the letter to Penn State president Rod Erickson that the governing body for college sports will look at "Penn State's exercise of institutional control over its intercollegiate athletics programs."

That once was never a question with Paterno, regarded as college football's model for running a clean program. He placed as much pride in graduating players as getting to bowl games, and consistently had Penn State among the top-rated academic programs in the country.

Paterno has donated millions back to the university, and his name graces campus library - not a football facility or athletic complex.


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