LUBBOCK, Texas – Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf said Thursday he could face radiation treatments if the part of a brain tumor that couldn't be removed by doctors winds up getting bigger.
Leaf told The Associated Press that the California doctor who performed the surgery couldn't get all of the tumor because parts were wrapped around brain stem nerves that affect swallowing and shoulder movement. Doctors said the tumor was benign.
"We're going to monitor it and if it starts to grow again then we're going to have to do a six-week round of radiation," Leaf said in a phone interview from California.
Before the tumor was discovered, Leaf says he was upset because he was "dead sober" but still felt like he was "hung over all the time." The 35-year-old Leaf was addicted to painkillers a few years ago.
He'd run a few miles or work out and feel better, the result he said he believes was from increased oxygen in his blood. A short time later, he'd "just hit a wall again."
He never thought his hydrocodone abuse caused the tumor and he said his doctors agreed.
Leaf, a Great Falls, Mont., native, starred at Washington State, and the San Diego Chargers made him the second pick of the 1998 NFL draft. He played for the Chargers from 1998-2000 and for the Cowboys in 2001. He threw for 3,666 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career, but is considered one of the league's biggest busts before later struggling with drugs.
Leaf said he tried to figure out why he was feeling groggy, lethargic and dizzy.
"I was worried there was something in my new house, like the furnace in my new house, that was putting off some bad stuff," Leaf said. "A lot of different things were running through my mind, certainly not one of them was a brain tumor."
Leaf had the seven-hour surgery May 25, a week after being told he had a mass near his brain stem. The chance the tumor might be malignant, Leaf said, didn't cross his mind.
"When the doctor came in and said that there was a mass or a tumor I never once let it creep into my mind that it was anything but that, that it needed to be removed and we'd go on with life," he said.
Leaf, who said he's rarely awed by people, found himself feeling that about his neurosurgeon, Dr. Daniel Kelly.
"I didn't want to know the specifics of what he was about to do," he said. "I just wanted him to get in there and do it."
Leaf recently finished writing a draft of the first of three books he's penning for Crimson Oak Publishing of Pullman, Wash. — about his life, football career and addiction to painkillers. He also writes a column for his alma mater's website and sells resort packages.
All of it has helped Leaf put some distance between his NFL past and his stumble at West Texas A&M. In 2008, while coaching football and golf at the Division II school, Leaf re-injured his wrist and wound up getting addicted to painkillers.
He resigned and was later indicted. Leaf was recently sentenced to 10 years of probation after pleading guilty to eight felony drug charges, all but one of them obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.
Asked if his recovery from drug addiction helped him face having a brain tumor, Leaf said everything that's happened since he was arrested, indicted and completed rehab has helped him grow.
"It's what it should be," he said. "Everybody goes through this. It's just that it's weird that, again, on my end of things, that it's public knowledge that I've begun changing in this way."
He said his perspective on life has broadened and he no longer runs from problems.
"If you deny the fact that things are happening to you, that this is going on, whether it's negative or positive, you're just putting yourself behind the eight ball because you're not facing it head on and dealing with it in a positive way that you've learned how to," said Leaf, who has been sober since November 2008.
Associated Press writer Betsy Blaney can be reached at http://twitter.com/betsyblaney