Cancer can't keep Charlie Davies down: “Luck doesn’t scratch the surface"

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—Rhys and Dakota Davies were born just five months ago, but they’ve already saved their father’s life.

On March 17, Charlie Davies and his wife, Nina, welcomed twin boys into the world three months ahead of schedule. It was a time of overpowering joy for the first-time parents, but also one of constant anxiety as Rhys and Dakota spent their first three months in the hospital monitored around the clock.

The mental and emotional strain on both Charlie and Nina was crushing, but there was a physical toll, too. Davies spent his mornings training with the New England Revolution, and afternoons and evenings at the hospital with his wife and newborn sons.

Davies spent hours each day in the car, traveling back and forth between Gillette Stadium, his home and the hospital. He had no discernible sleep schedule, and his typically healthy diet went out the window. He tried to get home for a brief rest when he could, but even then, his racing thoughts never truly let him relax.

All the while, Davies was making his way back from a hamstring injury he’d suffered in the Revolution’s home opener on March 12. Anxious to get back onto the field – in part for the brief escape – he pushed himself into the starting lineup for New England’s meeting with the Portland Timbers on April 27.

But his body wasn’t ready, and suffered a groin injury early in the match, limping off in the 35th minute before undergoing a routine MRI the next day to assess the extent of the injury.

The scan turned out to be anything but routine. The doctors pinpointed the source of his groin injury, but they found something much more ominous as well: a cancerous tumor.

“Luck doesn’t even scratch the surface of how fortunate I am to have had this groin injury,” Davies says. “In a way, I’m so thankful that Rhys and Dakota saved my life.”

CHARLIE DAVIES KNOWS HIS WAY AROUND HOSPITALS. He spent months intensively rehabbing from the car accident that so nearly took his life in October 2009, and he was essentially living at Brigham and Women’s Hospital while Nina and the twins were there this spring.

So when Davies went in for an MRI the day after injuring his groin against Portland, he thought nothing of it. The scan would identify the location of the injury so he could receive a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection to help the muscle heal as quickly as possible.

But when Davies arrived at the hospital the next day to receive the injection, Revolution head athletic trainer Evan Allen told him that he’d also be undergoing an ultrasound.

“An ultrasound? For what?” Davies asked.

The answer was jarring. The MRI had found a mass in Davies’ groin.

“When you hear that you’re thinking, that’s not good,” Davies says. “Instantly your mind runs to cancer.”

Davies dreaded having to call Nina with what was still vaguely ominous news. They’d been through so much already. When he called, he could hear Dakota breastfeeding for the first time – a major breakthrough – as well as the relief and happiness in Nina’s voice.

“Our baby was making a huge step forward. It was a milestone,” Davies says. “To have to tell her that I’m getting an ultrasound, they said they found a mass, but they don’t think it’s serious – I tried to play it down as much as I could.”

Davies’ fears were all-but-confirmed when the ultrasound technician barely spoke during the scan, then left him alone in the exam room for 15 minutes.

“I had never been left alone that long,” he says.

When the she came back, the ultrasound technician told Davies that the Revolution’s team doctors had been made aware of the results, and wished him luck with the rest of the season.

“That’s when it hit me,” Davies remembers. “This is bad.”

He was greeted in the waiting room by Allen, who told him that he’d need to see a specialist in Boston. There was still no official confirmation of cancer, but Davies knew.

During what Davies calls an “emotional” and “scary” drive home, his mind raced. Am I going to have to go through chemotherapy and radiation? Will I get to see my boys grow up? Am I going to die?

“I almost pulled over on the highway,” he says, “because it was getting tough to drive.”

It wasn’t long, however, before Davies’ thoughts shifted to his wife and newborn twins in the hospital. Rhys and Dakota were still in the neonatal intensive care unit at Brigham and Women’s, getting healthier every day but still fighting for their own lives.

The twins needed Davies. Nina needed him, too. So he did what he’s done every time he’s been faced with adversity. He smiled.

“I knew I had to stay strong,” Davies says. “I knew I had to stay strong for Nina, I had to stay strong for the twins in the hospital.

“It was just an extremely difficult situation when we were already in a difficult situation. It just compounded everything tenfold. I knew I had cancer. I just felt it. But I had to be strong and positive for my family.”

FROM AN OUTSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE, Charlie Davies is one of the unluckiest people on the planet. He’s dealt with more challenges and had to overcome more obstacles than most can fathom. A car accident that nearly killed him in 2009. The birth of premature twins fighting for their lives. A cancer diagnosis at 30 years old.

But you’ll never catch Davies feeling sorry for himself. In fact, he considers himself lucky to have suffered the groin injury that led to the scan that led to the discovery of liposarcoma, a rare type of cancer.

“Even the doctor said that they wouldn’t have ever found it until I had some symptoms,” Davies says. “Normally by then, when you’re having symptoms, it’s usually not a good thing. The tumor’s larger and there’s a good chance of it spreading – especially with the kind of cancer I had. It usually tends to move.”

Fortunately for Davies, they’d caught the tumor early, and it hadn’t yet spread. Within weeks, he’d undergone a surgical procedure to remove the mass. Within months, he was in remission.

“It’s almost as if it was meant to be,” Davies says, “and I have a guardian angel looking out for me.”

Rhys and Dakota, despite their early struggles, are now healthy, happy babies. They came home six weeks ago. Charlie’s healthy, too, having made yet another comeback – this time from cancer – last weekend in Orlando. And then there’s Nina, a cancer survivor herself, who Charlie says has been the glue that’s kept everything together.

That’s not the only recent development for the young family, either.

Only days after Davies returned to the field with the Revs, he was traded to the Philadelphia Union at the close of the MLS transfer window. It was a shock – but ultimately a welcome one as he was reunited with Boston College teammate and close friend Alejandro Bedoya, himself a young father and deadline signing. This weekend's game at Foxboro (7:30pm ET; MLS LIVE) offers the chance for a proper goodbye.

In Philadelphia, as they were in New England, Davies, Nina and the boys will be surrounded by a close-knit support group. With the Union, Davies sees a path toward more playing time – and perhaps a trophy lifted – alongside a group of guys he counts as long-time friends.

Most importantly, though, he sees a bright future for himself, his wife and their boys. Life may not always be smooth, but that’s nothing new to a family well versed in adversity.  

“We’re survivors and fighters and I think that’s how we take on life,” Davies says. “Whatever’s thrown our way, we’re just going to stand together and take it head on, and do it in a positive way.

“I think that’s just a beautiful way to live life.”