Ric Clark was an avid athlete growing up, playing several different sports before gravitating toward football.
His love for the game led him to accept a scholarship offer to Marshall University, where he played wide receiver. Once out of college, he continued to do what he could to stay in shape, constantly taking part in workouts both on the field with his two sons, Jaden and Christian, and lifting weights at a local gym.
So, when he began to experience severe back pain 4 years ago, doctors thought it was wear and tear from his athletic career. But they soon found out that wasn’t the case.
“I knew something was wrong,” Ric said. “The pain was to the point where I would have to take a folding chair to each station at my sons’ practices to coach. But doctors all said I was too healthy for it to be anything more than moderate scoliosis in my vertebrae.”
Ric underwent a series of tests to find what the root cause of his pain was after his primary care found he was losing blood somewhere in his body. However, doctors found nothing.
The emergency room doctor decided to run one more test. Deep-down Ric, for some reason, thought the worst. He believed he had some form of cancer. He didn’t know what type, but he couldn’t shake the thought from his mind.
The look on his doctor’s face when he returned to his room confirmed his suspicions. Three spots were found. He needed a biopsy but for confirmation, but it was believed to be cancer.
A few days later, Dr. Clayton Polowy, an oncologist in Mesa, gave them the diagnosis. Ric had Stage 4 advanced non-small cell adenocarcinoma, a severe form of lung cancer. He received his diagnosis just a month after his mother and sister were both diagnosed with cancer.
A PET scan was done and over 50 lesions were discovered in his body. They were up and down his vertebrae, which cracked in one spot and in his brain. His mutation was ALK-positive. According to his wife, Shannon, his body “lit up like a Christmas tree.”
He was given just 6 months to live.
“It just so happens that a month or two prior, they came out with a cancer pill for his mutation,” Shannon said. “They told us to pray for that mutation so he could take the pill.”
Two days after he began taking the pill, his pain was gone. A short time later, another PET scan showed his body had gone dim. The lesions were diminishing. The pill, which only positively affected less than two percent of the people who had taken it at the time, had worked.
Ric was overcome with emotion as he sat and watched Christian, now a sophomore at Desert Vista, practice with the varsity team while thinking about what transpired four years ago.
Since he was diagnosed, he’s entered remission three times and has dealt with a myriad of other health issues along the way. He went through three rounds of chemotherapy and 20 rounds of radiation, which caused the humorous in his left arm to crack. He now has a metal rod inserted to stabilize it. He, at one point, had become a full-blown diabetic from the treatments and then overcame that. He also entered Stage 4 kidney failure at one point and was within two weeks of going on dialysis. He beat that, too.
Every obstacle that has come his way, he’s conquered it. Shannon says he has nine lives. Christian believes he isn’t human.
“He’s a superhero,” Christian said, smiling. “He’s always strong for us and does what he can to make sure we are all right even though we have to worry about him sometimes. He puts others before himself no matter what it is. I love him for that.”
Despite all he has overcome, Ric knows his battle with health issues may not be over. On Aug. 21 of this year, he was downstairs in his family’s home putting together a piece of furniture for Jaden, now a freshman wide receiver at the University of Arizona.
He began slurring his speech and the left side of his face began to sag. A blood clot in his brain had caused a stroke. Christian was there to help.
It left him completely paralyzed on the left side of his body.
Ric was told he would have to undergo intensive physical therapy for weeks to regain his ability to properly walk again. But that wasn’t an option for him. After all, he wanted to make it to Christian’s first varsity game.
He took it upon himself to regain strength. On his own in his hospital bed, he stood up from a seated position repeatedly for hours. Ric told Shannon he was “practicing.”
Doctors knew what he was doing. They watched from outside of his window. Two days after his stroke he walked around the hospital floor. Less than two weeks later, he was able to walk into the stadium without a walker to see Desert Vista open the season against Perry. Christian scored a touchdown.
“He really is a walking miracle,” Shannon said. “And our medical team is so good and so supportive, and they all consult with each other to figure out what to do before something else happens. But every time it’s like, ‘We’ve never seen this before.’”
Ric’s most recent scan showed his cancer was still in remission. He has another scheduled for October.
He has spent the last 4 years documenting his medical journey in a notebook. Every medical loss and win are written in it. There’s also a lot of, “I love my boys,” “I love my wife,” and “I love my family,” from Ric.
In his mind, that journal will be a piece of him should he succumb to any potential future illnesses. But Christian and Jaden don’t plan to read it any time soon.
“I’m always in good spirits he’s here and healthy so reading that hasn’t crossed my mind,” Christian said. “My dad introduced me to football. He motivates me a lot. They’re the reason I am a sophomore on varsity, they pushed me. I try to do everything possible to make them proud.”
The bond the entire family shares were already strong before Ric’s diagnosis in 2017. It’s only grown stronger since. He still helps train both of his boys when they are home. He’s recently made trips down to Tucson to see Jaden.
He continues to overcome every obstacle that stands in his way, which has motivated his kids to fight through adversities they face on the football field. He plans to be right there with them when they overcome those, just like he has the last 4 years.
“Every time I’ve been diagnosed, I haven’t been afraid,” Ric said. “My boys, my wife, the three of them, we’re family. We live for our boys. My biggest fear was how it would affect them. Every morning when I wake up, I thank God for allowing me to see another day.
“I haven’t felt bad for a long time, and I thank God for that.”