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Patriots' Brandon Bolden Reveals He Had Cancer In 2018

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Brandon Bolden recently looked in the mirror and realized that he recognized the face -- the whole face -- staring back at him.

That moment prompted Bolden to reflect upon his bout with cancer in 2018, a diagnosis he had kept private until Thursday morning.

The longtime Patriots running back -- and a favorite of Bill Belichick -- posted a video on his Instagram page showing photos from the surgery he had in 2018 to remove cancer from his face. Bolden also posted that he's been cancer-free since 2018, when he underwent surgery.

Bolden spoke with the media later in the day and explained why he decided to go public.

"I really didn't have a reason for it. I actually had made that video [Wednesday] night, I was just kind of going through pictures, just kind of reminding myself. But that was back from 2018, I was diagnosed with cancer, it was like epidermoid carcinoma or something like that. I got it removed in 2018 and still was cancer-free at the beginning of this season and feel fine and everything else," Bolden said. "And it was just one of those moments where -- I was mentioning to my son and my little brother about this -- I was actually looking in the mirror and I was like, I got my full face back. And that's what made me go through the pictures and everything else."

Bolden said he got the diagnosis shortly after the Patriots lost Super Bowl LII to the Eagles, and he underwent surgery shortly thereafter. He re-signed with the Patriots that offseason, was released at the end of preseason, and spent the 2018 season playing for the Dolphins. He returned to the Patriots in 2019, opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, and returned in 2021 to play his eighth season with the Patriots. Bolden has set a career high in yards from scrimmage this year with 540, by far the most productive offensive season of his career.

The 31-year-old said he was able to play, despite the effect the surgery had on his face.

"I had surgery, sat out for a little while. I lost the majority of function and everything on the right side of my face, and continued to play," he explained. "It was just my face, it wasn't the rest of my body, so I was OK with it."

Bolden said he heard plenty of "naysaying" from doctors who didn't believe he'd be able to resume his football career, and set out to prove that doubt to be misguided.

"Just to show, like, bro, I had cancer and I did not think I was going to be able to play another down in the NFL. Here I am three years -- going on four years -- after having the surgery, and I'm still working strong," he said. "So it was just kind of one of those motivational, inspirational kind of type deals for me, because that took a lot. And it was a lot of naysaying from doctors and everything else. I'm just here to prove people wrong and continue to grow and get stronger."

Bolden said many of his newer teammates had no idea about his cancer, "because I don't ever talk about it." Now that he has made it public, he spoke about how the experience changed his overall perspective on life.

"It changes perspective about a lot," he said. "I thought I was doing everything to prevent stuff like that happening, and it happened. Had surgery and then it was kind of like that was my reset. I was able to redo it and reprocess how I was doing everything in my life, and here we are going on four years of being cancer-free now."

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