Troy WR Chris Lewis opens up about cancer treatment, motivation

'No way? Yes way!' Chris Lewis hauls in spectacular one-handed catch (0:27)

Chris Lewis snags a stunning one-handed catch for his hat trick of touchdowns in Troy's 28-10 win over South Alabama. (0:27)

As Troy wide receiver Chris Lewis hauled in 735 receiving yards last season and emerged as one of the nation's leaders in touchdown catches (10), something nagged at his left leg.

He told Troy's trainers the first few weeks of the season that he had tightness behind his knee. As the season went on, it took a while to get loose, and he eventually sought out the team doctor because he struggled to bend it.

He ultimately delayed getting an MRI until the season ended, since he didn't want a hamstring injury or fluid build-up to end his season prematurely. After Troy's victory in the Sun Belt title game, Lewis got the MRI, where doctors discovered a mass behind his left knee.

After additional scans, doctors eventually diagnosed Lewis with osteosarcoma, with the mass behind his knee being diagnosed as an aggressive malignant bone tumor in his left femur.

"I was just lost," he said. "How did that happen? I was lost for words. It was a lot of questions."

Lewis is now deep into a 10-week chemotherapy treatment that is attempting to decrease the likelihood of the cancer spreading and potentially shrink the tumor. He's been receiving his chemotherapy at Children's of Alabama in Birmingham, not far from where he's from in Pleasant Grove, Alabama.

He's scheduled for surgery -- the scope of which he won't know until another set of scans later this month -- on April 3. The result of those scans will determine much of what his ability to play again looks like.

"They did tell me that the tumor wasn't attached to the bone," Lewis told ESPN. "They told me it was the best news possible."

Lewis set up a GoFundMe this week to help with his expenses. It is hallmarked by a picture of him snaring a one-handed pass against Kansas State, and he's aiming to raise $150,000 to help with the expenses related to his cancer treatments.

After surgery, another grueling round of chemotherapy awaits. Lewis said he hasn't lost much weight, as he remains about 200 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame. Lewis did say that he has already lost his hair, choosing to shave his head when the hair around his dreadlocks started falling out and leaving bald spots.

Lewis is determined enough to suit up that he played in Troy's Birmingham Bowl game against Duke, which happened after his diagnosis and was approved by doctors because it posed no additional risk. While Lewis' potential return will depend on his upcoming scans and surgery, he is determined to return to the field for Troy.

"If I can play, I'm playing," he said. "It just really depends on what kind of recovery I have and how long that I have to recover before the season. If they clear me right before the season, I may sit out so my body can be in the best condition. If I have some months to train and get my body ready, I'll be out there."

Lewis is Troy's leading returning receiver and one of its best players, as he had a banner season in 2023 after transferring from Kentucky. He averaged 23.0 yards per catch on his 32 receptions, and his 10 touchdown catches tied for the lead in the Sun Belt and ranked him among the nation's leaders.

He also led Troy in highlight-reel catches, as he showed an affinity for one-handed grabs and standout plays on his way to landing a third-team All-Sun Belt spot. Lewis' three-touchdown performance against South Alabama this year earned him the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the "SportsCenter" Top 10 for his acrobatic catches. He finished that night with four catches for 120 yards.

Lewis said he accomplished all that without being able to run full speed this past season, as he struggled at times to bend his left knee and said he couldn't plant and drive off his left leg. He said watching his tape from the season has helped him in recent weeks.

"It's been a huge motivation for me, just going back and looking what I did this season and me knowing I wasn't at my full ability," he said. "Me seeing that makes me want to go back out there and show everyone what I can do at 100%.

"I really couldn't get in and out of routes. I wasn't able to run full speed. Being 100% and showing everyone what I can do at 100%, that's my biggest motivation."

The news of Lewis' diagnosis emerged the same week that former Troy coach Jon Sumrall left to take the Tulane job. Lewis credits the Troy staff for staying in touch and supporting him, including Dr. Jeff Dugas, the medical director and team orthopedic surgeon at Troy.

New Troy coach Gerad Parker has visited Lewis three times since taking the job in late December. Wide receiver coach Gary Banks, a holdover from Sumrall's staff, has been in touch frequently, and Lewis lauded his constant communication and support.

They all see someone enduring adversity with a positive attitude.

"The chemotherapy has clearly made him ill and physically sick, and that drags the energy out of you," Dugas said. "But he always answers the phone and is appreciative."

In the past two weeks, Parker addressed Lewis' diagnosis with the team and let the players know Lewis is going to be going through a scan and surgery in the coming weeks that loom as significant.

"This is going to get very much real for him and us," Parker said. "I just wanted to have an intimate conversation so everyone was aware."

Sumrall recruited Lewis twice -- initially to Kentucky as an assistant there and then to Troy. He's familiar with Lewis' determination and perseverance.

"If anyone can do it, it will be Chris," he said of a comeback to the field. "He's tremendously smart, tough and a competitive, gritty kid."

Lewis is appreciative of all the support he has received from Troy.

"My teammates and coaches have been calling and texting and checking up on me," he said. "When I'm at Children's, they've been coming and sitting with me. They've been supportive throughout this process. I miss being [at Troy]; I just miss being around the team and the regular schedule I've been accustomed to."