NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- David Quessenberry could tell something wasn't right when he started to get tired and the workouts got harder.
It was the summer of 2014, and the then second-year Houston Texans offensive lineman was experiencing fatigue, a persistent cough and a feeling he was going to black out during OTAs. A biopsy revealed that Quessenberry had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The devastating news didn't derail Quessenberry from his NFL goals. He just had to beat cancer first.
"No matter what anybody says, I am just going to keep charging. My focus is on being the best football player that I can," Quessenberry said. "I'll lay down for the team and do my job. That's all I’ve ever asked is for the team to give me a look. Give me a shot, and I'll do the rest."
Five years later, Quessenberry still is chasing his goals -- now as a member of the Tennessee Titans' practice squad. He is an example of how early detection can be a significant weapon in the fight against cancer. He also is an example of the firm will it takes to win the battle.
"The thing that keeps him motivated is that he doesn't believe he is finished returning,” said his father, David Quessenberry Sr. “He wants to be a consistent, true member of a 53-man roster. He doesn't mind being a representative as a cancer survivor, but he wants to be known as a football player too. He's willing to take the things on that come with being a high-profile cancer survivor, but he wants to finish the dream of being a football player in the NFL."
Quessenberry made the most of an opportunity to contribute for the Titans when he caught a touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota on a tackle eligible play in Week 2. His father was proud of him, calling the touchdown “the culmination of his determination.”
"I thought it was unbelievable. Him holding that football up in the air and triumphant," said Quessenberry's mother, Maureen. "Seeing him do that, I thought what a long way he had come from being a cancer survivor. You put those two pictures together, it is an incredible story."
Quessenberry's brother Scott is an offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Chargers. He was amazed by his sibling's touchdown catch: "I didn’t believe it at first. That’s awesome. For him to go through what he’s gone through and reach that high moment and for people to realize what he’s going through, that was pretty incredible."
Quessenberry almost lost the ball after scoring because he was so focused on his next job, which was to line up for the extra point. It was fitting that Titans center Ben Jones, a close friend of Quessenberry’s from when they were teammates in Houston, picked the ball up and gave it to one of the equipment guys to keep for Quessenberry.
In 2014, Quessenberry had just attended Jones' wedding the weekend before he received the diagnosis. Football was put on hold. Quessenberry's family and friends rallied around each other for support so someone could always be with him while he went through the chemotherapy process. He lost 60 pounds during treatment. Jones was a part of the group of friends that checked on Quessenberry and brought him food while he was in the hospital.
The team approach helped fuel Quessenberry while receiving chemotherapy. Through that process, he grew even closer to his family and friends. Quessenberry talks with his brothers almost daily on a group chat. His brother Paul, who played defensive end and linebacker for Navy, is in the Marines but also wants to pursue a career in the NFL.
"Whenever something goes wrong or times get hard, the real strength comes, and you get galvanized,” Quessenberry said. “If you're not close, tough times can break you. That didn't happen to us. We got stronger through the hard times."
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is another person whom Quessenberry became close with during his cancer battle. Vrabel was linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for the Texans while Quessenberry was there. Vrabel respected how Quessenberry did whatever he could to help the team while he was sick and also took time to help the coach's son Tyler, who is now a starting left tackle at Boston College.
"He was acting as basically a coach and was being held accountable to the O-line coach,” Vrabel said. “He helped with the young guys, he helped with meetings. In the time, Tyler would be around lifting and talked to him about a position change. It was something that Quess took really seriously and came to him very easy to be able to help and coach. Tyler just took in everything that he was teaching and coaching.”
Cancer patients often ring a bell to signify they’ve completed chemotherapy. When Quessenberry finished treatment in 2017 and rang the bell, he did so with such force that the bell fell to the ground. That spring, he returned to the practice field with the Texans for the first time since being diagnosed almost three years earlier. After being cut by the Texans in September 2018, Quessenberry joined the Titans about a week later.
He isn't taking any pills or going through treatment any longer. Quessenberry gets a CT scan every six months to check if the cancer has returned.
The fight he had with cancer taught him to appreciate the things that are happening around him. It drives him to help out any way he can. The road to recovery was a long one, but it emboldened Quessenberry to get through anything else that comes his way.
"It was a lot of tough days and hard days that we had to watch him fight through," Scott Quessenberry said. "His ability to persevere and overcome is pretty incredible, and it speaks volumes about the person he is. Any day that he has coming up will never be any worse than the days he’s been through."