Chuck Pagano still strong four years after leukemia fight

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Just about everyone has been touched by cancer at some point in their lives, giving all of us a stake in a cure.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano is now in remission from leukemia and is using his celebrity to advance research to help all of us.

"This disease, it doesn't discriminate, unfortunately," Pagano said. 

The coach is keeping track of his blessings.

"September 26, 2016 will be year four," he said.

Four years since Pagano and his wife, Tina, learned he was sick. She later revealed how they reacted to the diagnosis.

"We have this calendar. Thirty days. We can do 30 days to live!" Tina Pagano said in a January 2013 interview.

The treatment plan and drug regimen worked. Soon after, the Paganos vowed to pay it forward.

"I have a platform. So many people helped me and now we have an opportunity to help others," Pagano said.

It started with fans buying a flurry of "CHUCKSTRONG" t-shirts and wristbands, raising $450,000 for research at the IU Simon Cancer Center. It's morphed into an annual tailgate party at the Colts complex, netting $2 million more.

"It's an unbelievable event and you get to come in jeans, you get to come in tailgate gear. You don't have to go rent a tux and get in a stuffy suit," Pagano said.

"What I marvel most about with Coach Pagano is that he was hit in the gut with something that was so terrible and he could have walked away. He was cured," said Amber Sensey at the IU Simon Cancer Center.

But instead, CHUCKSTRONG money is fueling research in the Simon Cancer Center lab.

"Chuck has been a huge supporter of the program," said Dr. John Turchi PhD.

Researchers are trying to determine the best way to attack circulating tumor cells.

"It's not the primary cancer that will kill you, but the metastasis," Turchi said. "So it gets into the bloodstream and then goes to a separate organ and that is one of the harder things to deal with and so we have a variety of research projects underway to try and understand that process."

Progress made so far is collecting the rare circulating tumor cells and growing them into little spheres to mimic how the cells act in our body. It's a better sample to test if drugs will work.

"We've always been able to kill them when they are growing flat on a dish, the tumor cells, but now growing them in a much more unique form that really accurately depicts what is happening in their body gives us a tremendous amount of hope that we will be doing something that ultimately can be translated to the patient care arena," said Turchi. "The CHUCKSTRONG money has allowed us to access a variety of things that we couldn't do otherwise."

"It's very humbling," Pagano said.

What makes Chuck strong is team first, self second and service to others.

"Let's stamp out cancer right here, you know, in Indianapolis. Let's start right here and make sure that nobody has to say goodbye to somebody before they are supposed to," Pagano said.

The tailgate at the Colts complex is sold out, with 500 expected to attend this year. If you would like to donate to the CHUCKSTRONG cause, click here.

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