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Iwebema's Cautionary Tale


Defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema underwent surgery to remove a benign tumor in his chest Monday. Iwebema will return for training camp.

The X-rays players must take the day before minicamp -- part of a battery of tests every player undergoes each year -- have mostly been a pain in the rear, Calais Campbell admitted.

"You don't really want to do it," the defensive end said.

But Campbell's thought process is different now, after that X-ray found a baseball-sized tumor -- benign, thankfully -- in the chest of teammate Kenny Iwebema.

It was strange when Iwebema, a second-year defensive lineman, didn't show up for the start of voluntary organized team activities this week. Iwebema had a good excuse, however, having surgery Monday to remove the growth lodged in between his sternum and his heart.

Resting in the hospital Wednesday when the news became public, Iwebema was visited by some teammates (including Campbell) and returning get-well-soon text messages. The scary part of the process was over.

Iwebema is sidelined for up to two months, but that's good news. After doctors were able to remove the tumor through the side of his body, Iwebema should be ready for training camp. Had the tumor grown just a bit bigger (and it was already 9 centimeters by 7 centimeters), doctors would have had to open Iwebema's chest for the surgery, a procedure that would have sidelined him for all of 2009.

"Doing it the way they did it," Cardinals head athletic trainer Tom Reed said, "they not only saved his life but he'll be able to play football this season."

And it all came back to the X-ray.

X-rays from Iwebema's first minicamp in 2008 didn't show anything of note. The same was expected when Iwebema, Campbell and the Cards all came back for minicamp earlier this month.

Iwebema never knew anything was wrong. After his X-ray he began participating in practice, just like he had taken part in all of the Cardinals' strength and conditioning program during the offseason. But the mass was now in his chest, having grown exponentially over the past year.

The teratoma initially appeared in Iwebema at birth. Reed said there is no explanation why Iwebema's genetic code suddenly encouraged growth. Normally, a patient will show some sort of symptom, whether it was shortness of breath or weakness in the upper extremities, as the tumor gets bigger.

Yet Iwebema presented no symptoms, Reed said. Campbell added that even if he had, the 22-year-old football player might have brushed them off.

"Most of us are pretty tough," Campbell said. "We always think something will go away."

The X-ray didn't lie, however, and further tests underscored the need for Iwebema to have surgery. Reed acknowledged Iwebema was "pretty scared" at first, until he understood he would be OK.

"Kenny is doing well," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We are just lucky we were able to find it."

The tumor wasn't cancer, Reed emphasized. He also encouraged Iwebema to allow his "special story" to become public, a story that Reed said will be "amazing" when Iwebema begins playing football again.

Campbell talked to Iwebema Friday before the surgery and said he was in good spirits, an attitude echoed by Iwebema again Tuesday when he traded texts with Campbell before Tuesday's OTA. Campbell said the players going to see Iwebema were going to needle him a bit for missing OTAs, and planned on bringing some flowers and a teddy bear to the hospital as a joke.

Complaining about the X-rays doesn?t sound that funny anymore, though.

"You never know," Campbell said.

Contact Darren Urban at Posted 5/20/09.

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