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Prior to his firing, Paterno pressed on with coaching in spite of a number of recent ailments. He often walked into news conferences fighting back sniffles, and Paterno often passed it off as nothing more than an annoying cold.
He was said to be in good health this preseason -- getting back to his routine of walking around town -- before a receiver accidentally blindsided him during preseason drills in August, leaving him with an injured right shoulder and pelvis.
Known for his stubbornness and high pain threshold, Paterno walked away from the collision and stayed on his feet for the rest of the practice period before being encouraged to get checked out by a doctor. The injuries forced him to spend most of the season in the press box.
During the 2010 offseason, Paterno scaled back personal appearances because of an intestinal issue and an adverse reaction to antibiotics prescribed for dental work.
Paterno ran practices from a golf cart in 2008 and spent much of that season in the press box after injuring his hip while trying to show players how to perform an onside kick in practice. Two years earlier, he broke his leg in a sideline collision during Penn State's game at Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.
"Anyone who has ever been around coach Paterno knows he has tremendous drive and fight," acting athletic director Dave Joyner said in a statement. "The Penn State community will be in his corner and wishes him a speedy recovery."
Lung cancer kills 1.4 million people around the world each year. In the United States, 221,130 new cases and 156,940 deaths are expected this year. The disease is typically diagnosed in older people. About 2 out of 3 people diagnosed with lung cancer are over age 65.
"There's a significant number of people who are diagnosed in their 70s and 80s," said chief medical officer Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society, who has no involvement in Paterno's treatment.
"Generally when I hear that a person has a treatable form of lung cancer, it means the person may very well benefit from surgery to remove a part of the lung," Brawley said.
While the surgery can be invasive, people who undergo the operation "can do well after that," he said.
The lights were dim Friday night at Paterno's modest ranch home next to a park near the end of a dead-end street. A few TV photographers waited across the street for any sign of the coach.
About a mile away, a steady stream of fans arrived in pairs to take pictures at the life-sized bronzed statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium. Jill Varady, 24, of York, said she found out about Paterno's illness after her aunt posted a comment on Facebook.
Despite the scandal, the school should now let Paterno "definitely let him finish the season, and then ... let him retire," Varady said. "We probably will never know everything that happened."
The illness didn't change the perception of how Paterno handled the Sandusky situation, said Tessa Drawbaugh, 26, of State College. "But as far as other than that, he's an icon," she said. "Everybody wants him to be well."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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