Andruzzi putting up fight against 'aggressive' non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Updated: September 13, 2007, 6:20 PM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Former New England Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi battled some of the toughest, meanest and nastiest defensive lineman in a 10-year NFL career.

None came close to the aggressive but treatable form of cancer he is fighting now.

Andruzzi, a member of the Patriots' three Super Bowl championship teams during his five years with the club, was diagnosed in May with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma -- cancer of the cells of the lymphatic system -- and has returned to the Boston area for treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The 32-year-old sounded tired and subdued in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, but he is drawing strength from his family, his friends in football and from other professional athletes who have fought and conquered cancer.

"I'm still not feeling too great, just trying to take it one day at a time," Andruzzi said. "The treatment is really taking it out of me. It's a real aggressive cancer so I am getting real aggressive chemo treatment."

Fighting is nothing new to the native of Staten Island, N.Y. He was an undrafted free agent out of Division II Southern Connecticut State and probably shouldn't have lasted through his first NFL training camp. Instead, he carved out a decade-long career with the Green Bay Packers, Patriots and Cleveland Browns, who released him just before he was diagnosed.

He was the anchor of an offensive line that protected Tom Brady, starting 76 consecutive regular-season games at one point.

But what Patriots fans perhaps remember most vividly about Andruzzi was his emotional news conference the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The 6-foot-3, 312-pound linemen almost broke down a number of times as he recounted the terrifying hours after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers when he didn't know if his three New York City firefighter brothers were alive. One brother, Jim, had been one of the first firefighters on the scene.

His brothers survived, and days later Andruzzi ran onto the field at old Foxboro Stadium holding a pair of American flags high in the air prior to a game against the New York Jets.

"9/11 was a big time in their lives, and they had to fight, and now I have to fight through this with them at my side," Andruzzi said.

Also at his side has been his wife, Jennifer, who is raising money for Dana-Farber at this Sunday's Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk.

The walk is the only other sanctioned event on the marathon's route. Jennifer Andruzzi and her "Live, Laugh, Love" team had raised more than $7,500 in pledges as of Thursday.

"Compared to everything that Joe has gone through, this walk for me is nothing," she said.

Giving back is nothing new for the Andruzzis, who have four children. While with the Patriots, Joe befriended C.J. Buckley, a teen cancer patient. When C.J. died, Joe established a trust in his name to benefit children's brain cancer research. He was a regular at holiday turkey giveaways and charity golf tournaments and even sponsored a motorcycle ride to benefit the Cam Neely Foundation.

"It's always been in our hearts to give back," Jennifer said.

Returning to Massachusetts has brought the Andruzzis closer to their family in New York, but it has also brought them back to the Patriots family. Joe said he has received calls from owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and others.

"I still have some friends on the offensive line, they come by and talk to me," Joe said. "The guys in the training room call me, the front office guys, everybody pretty much calls."

Running back Kevin Faulk gets updates through his wife, who is in e-mail contact with Jennifer Andruzzi.

"You pray and you believe that he will [beat the cancer]," Faulk said. "You never know what can happen, but in the long run that's what you want to happen, that he beats the thing. He's a strong guy."

If Andruzzi fights cancer the way he plays football, he'll pull through, Browns coach Romeo Crennel said.

"He left everything out there on the field each week, and then he came back and battled again the next week," said Crennel, who was the Patriots' defensive coordinator when Andruzzi was with the team.

"So I know that in this fight he's giving everything he has. He's strong-minded and strong-willed and he'll fight it as long as he needs to," he said.

The Andruzzis are also inspired by the survival stories of other professional athletes, including the Boston Bruins' Phil Kessel, as well as Jon Lester and Mike Lowell of the Boston Red Sox. Jennifer Andruzzi has read seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's books about his battle with testicular cancer.

Those athletes have overcome the disease to excel in their careers. Joe Andruzzi has much more modest goals.

"Joe right now is just trying to get better," his wife said. "He wants to be able to go run around with his kids outside. ... He wants the energy and stamina to get through a day without being exhausted."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press