Former Pitt wrestler Kornberg spreads positivity after beating cancer |

Former Pitt wrestler Kornberg spreads positivity after beating cancer

Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Pitt junior Dan Kornberg, 22, works with local high school wrestlers at a Pittsburgh wrestling club practice at the Fitzgerald Field House in Oakland Wednesday, May 18, 2016.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Pitt junior Dan Kornberg, 22, plays a video game with Children's Hospital patient Dalton Smith, 7, of Wellsburg, WV while volunteering at the hospital in Lawrenceville Friday, May 13, 2016.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Pitt junior Dan Kornberg, 22, gives the thumbs up while working with high school wrestlers during a Pittsburgh wrestling club practice at the Fitzgerald Field House in Oakland Wednesday, May 18, 2016.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Pitt junior Dan Kornberg, 22, warms up during a Pittsburgh wrestling club practice at the Fitzgerald Field House in Oakland Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Kornberg works with high school wrestlers twice a week.

Dan Kornberg was sitting in class when his phone started vibrating repeatedly.

He ignored the calls. But he did not ignore the text message:


“I want you to look at this,” the doctor said shortly after, holding up an MRI of Kornberg’s right knee. “There’s an anomaly here. I don’t know what it is. And I don’t like it.”

A few days before, Dan Kornberg, who in 2013 was a wrestler at the University of Pittsburgh, felt a “weird feeling” in his knee halfway through practice.

He didn’t tell anyone at first. “I just kept pushing,” Kornberg recalled. “There’s nothing you can’t wrestle through.”

After practice, though, he told a trainer. Medical staff examined him: Slightly torn meniscus, they decided. No big deal, maybe a month of rehab. But they ordered an MRI, just to be sure.

Then the doctor summoned him to his office.

The MRI did indeed reveal an injury to the meniscus, just as trainers suspected. But it also detected a small, mysterious mass. They figured it was nothing serious, perhaps some residual sign of trauma from years of wrestling. Kornberg wasn’t worried. He was more concerned about missing the rest of the wrestling season — until the doctor mentioned cancer.

“I don’t want to rule anything out,” he said and ordered a biopsy.

“I started to get little bit anxious,” Kornberg recalled. “Stupid me decided to go to Google, because I really didn’t know you could get a cancerous mass in your knee region. I found that it’s rare, but it could happen.”

Kornberg was in class when his phone vibrated again. This time he took the call.

Dr. Richard L. McGough of UPMC Shadyside had good news and bad news.

The bad news: The mass in his knee was Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone disease typically found in children.

The good news: They caught it before it could enter the lungs, which is often when symptoms of Ewing’s sarcoma appear. By then, the doctor said, it’s usually too late.

“I lucked out with the timing,” Kornberg said.

He lucked out because he hurt his knee. Specifically, his right knee. Had he injured his other knee, who knows when doctors would have found the cancer?

Chemotherapy started at once and lasted for nine months. The doses were aggressive, and they worked. The mass shrank. Surgeons removed it.

Kornberg has been cancer-free for 21 months.

Today he is back with the wrestling team as a team manager. Ongoing treatment means he can’t compete. So he contributes in ways wins and losses cannot define.

“When guys think about what they’re going through — a hard workout, making weight, a tough loss — they say, ‘If Dan can beat cancer, we can do whatever we have to do,’ ” said Matt Kocher, head assistant coach for the Pitt wrestling team.

For Kocher, the diagnosis was a frightening reminder of his wrestling days at Pitt, when teammate and friend Kyle D. Deliere was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. Deliere, a former WPIAL wrestling champion at Canon-McMillan, lost his battle. He died Nov. 15, 2013, at 27.

“Dan was probably the least concerned of all of us,” Kocher said. “He kind of treated it like it was just a regular old knee injury, even though we all knew it was much bigger. That’s Dan. He might be the most positive kid we’ve ever had come through the program.”

Positivity is the key, Kornberg said.

“If you start giving up mentally,” he said, “your body is going to follow.”

That’s what he tells the kids in the hematology/oncology unit at Children’s Hospital, where Kornberg volunteers every Friday.

“For these kids to be going through this is extremely hard,” he said. “They want to take their minds off it. They want someone to talk to them who’s not a parent or a doctor. I can lighten the mood and distract them for a bit and get them to realize everything will be OK in the long run. I love doing it. I understand what they’re going through.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.