The secret hid there in his neck, growing unseen and unknown.
Southern Miss offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic never felt it. It wasn't until he got sick on a recruiting trip and his throat started to hurt. He touched around his neck and felt a giant lump. Should that be there? Kapilovic thought it might have something to do with his cold.
But the lump stayed there and never went away. Finally 3 ½ weeks later, he went to have it checked. “You never noticed this before?” doctors asked. Kapilovic shook his head. Perhaps it was just a cyst, he was told.
An ultrasound revealed something more. After several biopsies and tests, Kapilovic got the dreaded news nobody ever wants to hear: he had thyroid cancer. He got the news at the end of May. He underwent surgery June 4.
“You’re kind of like, ‘Holy cow, this is something that can change your life forever,” Kapilovic said in a phone interview. “But the more I researched it, thyroid cancer is beatable, treatable, and I had a positive outlook.”
Kapilovic, 43, had his surgery in Birmingham to remove the tumor. That weekend, Southern Miss happened to be hosting a camp for recruits, one of its most important weekends of the year. He asked his doctor if he could attend.
“I said all I’m going to be doing is lying around,” he said. “Is there any way to go to the camps so I can observe? He said I had to make sure I didn’t push it. I said I’d rather do this than lay on the couch.”
He showed up at the athletic facilities on Sunday and “people looked at me like I was Frankenstein” with the big scar on his neck. But at least he was able to observe some of the offensive linemen going through drills and give his input on what he saw.
“Recruiting is our lifeline,” he says. “We work so hard to get them to show up -- if I miss all these guys then I can’t evaluate these offensive line prospects. I felt I was putting us in a bind. I felt like I was healthy enough to do that.”
The second part of his treatment entailed undergoing radiation. For that, he took a heavy dosage through a pill and was quarantined in his hospital room for two days. He wasn’t allowed to see his kids for four days and stayed at a hotel. Kapilovic had to follow a series of instructions for 13 days to ensure the treatment would work.
After all that was completed, he had blood work and a body scan, which showed the cancer hadn't spread. The last scan showed he was cancer free, though he goes back for more tests in two weeks. He is on thyroid medication now and will be for the rest of his life. That medication has left him more tired than normal, especially after practice.
“Our offensive coordinator comes to me every other day and says, ‘Look, if you need to leave early do it,' but if I went early to get extra sleep I wouldn’t sleep anyway,” Kapilovic says. “I would feel awful I’m not here. You’re tired when you’re a coach, anyway. It’s part of the job.”
Kapilovic, known as Coach Kap around Southern Miss, has had a big career challenge as well -- reshaping an offensive line that must break in four new starters. “Sometimes my players look at me like I’m crazy,” he said. “They’re so young, they don’t understand sometimes it has to happen now, it can’t wait until we get into games and make corrections.”
His energy has never wavered on the practice field, and he is confident in the young group that will line up for the first time against South Carolina on Sept. 2.
But more than anything, he is thankful for sore throats.