After dealing with several days of back pain in December, West Deptford High School track coach Mark Dixon decided it was time to take a trip to Underwood Memorial Hospital to have himself checked out.
After running some tests, doctors revealed to Dixon that his adrenal gland—located above the kidneys—had burst, which was causing the pain. The doctors could not tell Dixon why the gland had ruptured, but were able to manage the pain and send him home.
However, things still weren’t quite right, and a phone call with friend and football colleague Clyde Folsom was about to confirm the original diagnosis was lacking.
“Clyde’s wife works at UPenn (The University of Pennsylvania Hospital), so when I was talking to him about what was going on, he immediately put me on the phone with his wife. After a couple of minutes of talking to her, she said, ‘That’s it, you are coming into our hospital.’ ”
It was there that Dixon received the news that he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma—a type of blood cancer.
Naturally, the news stunned Dixon. The good news, he said, was that it was detected early and was curable. Dixon immediately started chemotherapy and now, just a couple month after the diagnosis, is almost entirely cancer-free. The cancerous cells are no longer multiplying and he has just one more chemo treatment scheduled on April 11. Once that appointment passes, Dixon is hopeful the whole ordeal will be over.
“I’m doing well,” he said. “Everything from the doctors has come back good.”
In the meantime, Dixon continues on as the coach of the boys' track team. He still has good days and bad, due to the chemo wearing down his body. He doesn’t often stay longer than an hour at practices and sometimes has to leave the entire practice session in the hands of his assistant coaches.
Dixon said most of the practices don’t miss a beat thanks to his assistants. The one area that does see limited action is the pole vault, Dixon’s specialty. Athletes do not compete in that event when Dixon is not there for safety reasons. But Dixon also has that covered.
The team’s top vaulter is senior Sean Weidler, who is Dixon’s nephew.
“If I’m feeling good on a Saturday or Sunday, I can just call him up and we can get an extra hour in, so it works out,” Dixon said.
Dixon’s athletes are aware of the situation that he is dealing with and have been completely supportive. When signups were being held he told the kids that although he would miss time, one of the other coaches would always be there and the team would not miss a beat.
The kids have even gone as far as to give Dixon standing ovations during practice, something he laughs off, while appreciating.
Now that the regular season has rolled around, Dixon plans on doing what he can to be at every event. He suspects he will be able to make it through all the dual meets, but admits all-day weekend meets might be pushing it at this point.
Of course leaving a Saturday meet early is a small price to pay given what the consequences could have been had he not made that trip to UPenn. Dixon is thankful for the advice he got from the Folsoms and humbled by the attention he has received—including a moment with Bruce Springsteen.
He’s also ready for this chapter of his life to be past him.
“Hopefully this last round (of chemo) is good and I can move on from it,” Dixon said.