How Williams' eye-opening cancer scare tested star's mental toughness

How Williams' eye-opening cancer scare tested star's mental toughness originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

There might not be a tougher athlete -- both physically and mentally -- than 49ers star left tackle Trent Williams.

The 11-time Pro Bowl selection widely is regarded as the best at his position and one of the best NFL players period, but his success on the field is not without its hardships off it.

Williams appeared on the latest episode of "The Shop," where he discussed his battle with cancer while playing for Washington and how the scare changed his entire life.

"You never really know how tough you are until you got to be," Williams told Maverick Carter and Paul Rivera. "And you don't know how strong you are until you have a choice to be strong and that's the only option."

"For me, just going through the cancer scare, I did feel somewhat invincible. I was [coming off] seven straight Pro Bowls, life was good. Me and my boys we were on vacation, I get the call and it just started to snowball from there."

Williams for years had a mass on the right side of his scalp and was told by team doctors in Washington that it was just a cyst and not to worry about it. He obliged and didn't think much of it for a while, but after years of trying to hide it, he decided to finally get it removed.

It wasn't until a consultation with a doctor outside of the organization and a chilling voicemail he received while on vacation that he began to worry.

"We went on our trip, I get a call from the doc. He had a really heavy Indian accent, so he was speaking kind of frantic and I didn't really understand him," Williams recalled. "And really I got the eerie feeling in my stomach, like this sounds kind of important and I didn't even want to deal with what It could be, so I didn't even listen to the rest of the voicemail."

Williams returned home and met with his new doctor. With one of the team doctors by his side, Williams received his official diagnosis. Reality began to set in that the team had completely misdiagnosed the mass they originally deemed harmless.

"'You got this rare form of cancer.' He said it's like one-in-five million chance of getting this particular cancer or something like that, it was really rare," Williams shared. "So really, honestly I couldn't even hear nothing, as soon as he said 'cancer' ... so any time I hear the word 'cancer' it brings that back."

"So from there, they're like 'Hey, so how long has this been there?' I'm like, I look at the team doctor because he was in there, and I'm like 'So you didn't tell them?' and he just kind of looks down a bit. So I'm like 'Five years' and they're just like '... oh.'"

After further tests, Williams received another phone call from his doctor about a week later. This one was much more urgent than the last, advising him to get in his car immediately and drive an hour for an after-hours visit.

"I go and I get in the office and it's literally just a doctor and a nurse there, everybody's gone," Williams said. "I walk in, it's dark and I can tell the nurse, she didn't really want to make eye contact. So I'm noticing all this stuff as I'm coming in there. I'm like a ball of nerve.

"I'm waiting on the doc, he finally comes. He walks in and as soon as he starts talking, the nurse, her lips start shaking like she's tearing up."

"He's like: 'Listen, man, you need to not worry about football, you just need to get close to your daughters and the people you love the most, because it's not looking that good.'"

Williams was told by his doctors to get his affairs in order after the cancer appeared to have spread to his skull.

"It looked like from the MRI that it looked like it had metastasized to my brain, to my skull and stuff," Williams explained. "In their mind, they're like it's pretty much over once that happens."

"I've got all girls. At that time I had two daughters. I'm just thinking like 'Damn, I want to walk them down the aisle, send them off to college, I want to see them graduate. Damn, I don't think I'm going to make it that long,'" Williams recalled. "Especially with what he's saying."

Williams traveled to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where he successfully had the cancer removed after three surgeries.

Despite being misdiagnosed by Washington's medical staff, Williams doesn't hold any ill will toward the doctors who were unable to identify his rare form of cancer.

"It was a rare form of cancer, it was a cancer that 80 percent of cancer doctors don't even see," Williams said. "There's no way this team doctor that's looking at knees and ankles and if you got the flu or whatever. There's no way he can make an outside determination on what that was. Honestly, I don't think it benefits me from holding a grudge against him."

Looking back on his journey, Williams is thankful for the lessons he learned from his battle and how the scare shifted his perspective about what's most important in life.

"It's probably the best thing that's ever happened to me, because it made me appreciate not only my career, but made me appreciate life," Williams shared. "And when you're young and got a lot, you take it for granted. You feel you're untouchable in a sense."

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