Mark Nofri, head football coach at Sacred Heart University (SHU), was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2014 at just 45 years old. Despite his diagnosis, he continued to do what he loved—coaching through treatment and encouraging his team to stay the course. He even teamed up with us for the Coach Nof Tackles Cancer Campaign, which ended in a blue out tailgate in November and raised more than $7,000 to go towards our mission to knock out colon cancer.
We got a chance to speak with Coach Nof about the campaign, his experience and getting involved to help others living with colon cancer.
How was the idea for the Coach Nof Tackles Cancer campaign born?
I went to Deputy Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Brad Hurlbut and Associate Director of Athletics Chris O’Connor about doing a football game and having some of the proceeds donated back to a colon cancer organization. They thought it was a great idea and Chris put the wheels in motion and set everything up from that point on.
What was it about the Colon Cancer Alliance mission that inspired you to team up to raise support and awareness?
We were looking for a colon cancer charity and Chris found the Colon Cancer Alliance. After reviewing your organization, we thought it would be the best to support and help.
You’ve been very brave this year—coaching during treatment and encouraging your players to “grind it out.” What kept you motivated this season?
I would say staying busy helped me a lot mentally; it made me feel like I was beating it and doing something instead of laying around feeling sorry for myself. Also, I tried to set an example for the players and kids on the team. I speak to them all the time about finishing what you started and being strong in everything you do—on and off the field. I talk to them about attacking adversity and how to handle things when they don’t go your way. Being around the team and my coaches made me feel better about beating cancer every day.
How did it feel to have the Sacred Heart University campus support you and the Coach Nof Tackles Cancer campaign?
It was awesome to see how much people around here cared and showed their support—it was amazing. Not just my sport, but a lot of others were reaching out to me as well. I think that’s why SHU is so special: the people and the students. It is very unique and close. When someone has a crisis here or is dealt a setback, you would be surprised how many people at SHU are willing to help out.
What advice would you give someone who is newly diagnosed and interested in getting involved or giving back to others in the colon cancer community?
I would say give what you can. There are so many cases and people out there that are diagnosed with this form of cancer and medical research is doing wonders to help cure and prevent it. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but anything you can do will make a difference for someone out there.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I am lucky to work for such a great and supportive university and have tremendous support from my staff, colleagues and, most of all, my family. I’m also so lucky to have had one of the best surgeons in the country, Dr. Longo out of Yale. They have outstanding care and support and I knew I was in great hands with them.
Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help.