Oct. 5, 2010
By Becky Hart, Bucknell Athletic Communications
Most athletes look forward to playing in the big games, bringing pride to their fans and collecting the championship trophies. Men's tennis player Mark Malloy is looking forward to his championship season as well, but for a different reason. When March rolls around, Malloy is hoping to be able to celebrate on-court victories with his teammates and, more importantly, a new lease on life.
"I'm just trying to keep myself positive and make sure I'm doing everything I can to keep myself healthy and keep myself cancer-free. When six months comes from now, hopefully that will be right in the middle of our season and we'll have some great news coming."
Staying cancer-free likely is not something Malloy was thinking about at this point last year. In the fall of 2009, the now-senior co-captain was sailing around the world with Semester at Sea, visiting countries on three continents and gathering once-in-a-lifetime memories. By January, Malloy was facing a life-threatening health scare. The laid-back beaches of Mauritius that now filled his photo album never seemed so far away.
The plan had always been to forgo the fall semester of his junior year in favor of studying abroad, then pick up in the spring where he left off. Everything was going according to plan until that winter. Back in the United States after nearly four months abroad, Malloy resumed his workout regimen only to be sidelined again, this time by some unexpected pain. Days before returning to campus for the start of classes, he decided to pay a visit to his doctor.
"They ran some ultrasounds, they did some scans, they took my blood, and they found that it was testicular cancer," says Malloy. "That was definitely a big shock."
Luckily the cancer was still in the early stages, but with the threat of it moving into his lungs and eventually his brain, Malloy and his doctors moved quickly.
"A couple days later, I had my first surgery to remove my left testicle, which had the cancer. The general prognosis after that is if your blood markers continue to decrease at a certain rate, that generally means that the cancer is not present anymore, which means that it did not go into Stage Two. So I was very fortunate for that.
"After I had my first surgery, there was a chance that that was going to be the end of it. The cancer was done; there was no vascular invasion where it goes into your blood stream," Malloy continues. "So after my surgery, I came back to school right before school started. I wasn't going to be playing tennis for a little while because I was recovering from the first surgery, which is about the same type of surgery if you have a sports hernia. There was a good chance, or there was a chance at least, that I'd be able to stay in school and play tennis."
It looked as if Malloy was on his way back to a normal student-athlete's life at Bucknell, but the pathology report following his surgery was not quite so optimistic. Reports showed that the cancer was more developed, and more serious, than originally thought. Malloy was presented with two options: chemotherapy or a surgery called retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, where the lymph nodes are removed from the abdomen. Both options carried their own set of risks, and neither would be easy. Doctors recommended Malloy take the semester off, ending the tennis player's plans to return to academic life and the courts that spring.
Malloy is now six months removed from his second surgery and all signs point to success. The cancer is in remission, Malloy is back in the classroom and the Bison are reaping the benefits of having their veteran in the lineup once again.
"I just found out last week that I've been six months cancer-free," says Malloy in late September. "So at least for the next six months, I'm just trying to really take it easier and make sure that I keep myself healthy and don't put anything in my body that may trigger something to come back."
Malloy played his first tournament in more than a year Sept. 17-19 as Bucknell began its season at the Northeast Intercollegiate in Providence, R.I. Shaking off the rust, he advanced to the finals in his singles flight only to fall in straight sets to his opponent from Marist. Proud of his start, Malloy was gladly paying the price for his success in the opening weekend.
"Definitely towards the end of the week I was feeling quite sore. I still don't have all my movement back in my abdomen and my stamina, but it felt great to be back playing," says Malloy. "Kind of the mindset that I'm taking out on the court is to just be thankful to be here, to be back playing tennis. That makes it a lot easier if I win or lose, but making it to the finals of the singles was very special for me, no matter what flight [I'm] playing in."
Taking things slowly is turning out to be as big a challenge as any. As his condition improves, it becomes increasingly difficult for Malloy to pace himself and remember that he is just a fraction of the way through the 12- to 18-month recovery that accompanies his last surgery. Malloy is constantly reminded not to jump into things too quickly, thanks in large part to his teammates and coaches Rebecca Helt and Steve Schram.
"It's really hard coming back, especially missing a whole year. Now being a captain, I want to be at every practice and winning all my matches and playing in the top flights," says Malloy. "It's kind of frustrating not playing as well as I'd like right now and getting tired and having to take days off, but my teammates are 100 percent supportive and making sure that I don't push it too much."
A spot in the top flights is what Malloy was destined to reach when he finished his sophomore season, making the intentionally slow return in 2010 that much more difficult. After tallying a 23-8 singles record in his second campaign, Malloy was chosen as Bucknell's lone All-Patriot League performer, earning second-team honors. He also had broken into the top-15 on the program record lists for career singles, doubles and combined victories. Especially not knowing what his future held, it would have been easy for the team's stand-out player to simply continue on the same path, but Malloy was determined to have other experiences away from the Bucknell campus.
"I've always wanted to go abroad. One of the nice things about Bucknell is that it's always academics first and then tennis and then social life, at least 1-2-3 for me," says Malloy. "I love being on the tennis team, but I wanted to not put tennis at the steering wheel of my four years here. I wanted to be in a fraternity and do other activities on campus and go abroad. Missing half of the year was something that I was willing to do to go abroad."
Malloy ultimately chose to travel with Semester at Sea, allowing him to visit countries such as Spain, Ghana, South Africa, Cambodia and China. Along the way, the sociology major who is also minoring in economics and philosophy took an overnight sleeper train where "there were cockroaches and rats all over the place, and I stayed in, basically, this hut in the middle of India for a few days." He also participated in service projects that took him to orphanages and children's hospitals in each of the countries. One particularly rewarding stop resulted in the installation of a water heater as part of a class called International Service Learning.
"One of the things [our professor] instilled was the $100 Solution, where you take $100 and you develop a relationship with a community whether it be at an orphanage or a children's hospital," explains Malloy. "Every year, the Semester at Sea boat will go back to the same orphanage, and they'll say, `With our $100, what can we do to improve the quality of life for you?' So it's not $1,000, it's not $1 million. It's just $100. There was an orphanage that didn't have hot water. So with $100, we got a heater for the water and the technician came in and installed it, and now these kids have hot showers. Little things like that were really what made the trip so special."
Malloy's journey began in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the ship ultimately stopped in San Diego, Calif. After more than three months at sea, collecting experiences that most only dream about, Malloy had a long way to fall with the shock of his diagnosis. Over the last six months, however, he has made it quite clear that he would not stay down for long.
The comeback trail began over the summer when he received the Tim Nesvig Internship, allowing him to work in the sales and marketing departments at ESPN, Fox Sports and a pair of advertising agencies in New York. Nesvig was an Honorable Mention All-American with the Bucknell water polo team in 1995 and an account executive with ESPN who died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 30. The Nesvig family, including Tim's father Jon who was with Fox Sports, soon started a foundation supporting research and the internship for Bucknell students that included those companies the Nesvigs worked closely with. The similarities in the situations were not lost on Malloy, making the opportunity that much more meaningful.
"It was just a very wonderful experience and very moving for my family and me, especially when I became sick," says Malloy. "In no way was it even close to what that family went through, but it was even that much more special to me, especially being in remission and finally being back on my feet this summer."
Malloy's return to normalcy continues this weekend as Bucknell men's tennis plays its first matches of the season on its home courts, and with any luck his bid for a full comeback will continue late into the spring. Six months from now and with the championship season on the horizon, the Bison will be hoping for another successful run through their Patriot League schedule. They'll also be hoping for some great news.
Note: This story appeared in the Oct. 2 Bucknell Football Gameday Program vs. Cornell.