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03/05/12 4:30 PM EST

Geer grateful to be back after cancer bout

Padres pitcher missed most of 2011 with Stage III melanoma

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Like many of the other Minor League pitchers and catchers in Padres camp, Josh Geer arrived in Peoria late last week optimistic about what 2012 holds for him.

But no matter what happens this month, chances are very good that it will go a lot better for the right-handed pitcher, both on and off the field, than it did a year ago.

Last April, after making two starts with Triple-A Tucson, Geer had surgery to remove lymph nodes from his neck after he was diagnosed with Stage III melanoma, a type of skin cancer.

"It was a long year this last year, but I'm right on schedule now and with everything behind me," Geer said. "I'm past it all and looking ahead to the future."

It's much easier to look ahead now than it is to look back.

Geer has been cancer-free since April 21, when he had surgery to remove the lymph node with melanoma and the eight surrounding lymph nodes to ensure the melanoma hadn't breached them. After the surgery, Geer was left with 25 staples in his neck and more down time than he ever wanted.

Geer, who couldn't tell you the last time he spent a summer at home, was suddenly left with a lot of idle time on his hands, time he didn't know how to fill. Time away from baseball, his teammates, his friends and his routine. It left him depressed.

"It was very tough. It's something I've never experienced in my entire life," Geer said. "I never thought anything could make you feel like that."

Following his surgery, Geer started a treatment program that required him to receive Interferon alfa-2B, which stimulated the immune system in its fight against the cancer. He had that five times a week for a month in his hometown of Forney, Texas.

Where Geer ran into trouble was when he switched to injections of the Interferon -- he was set to receive three shots a week for 11 months. But Geer didn't react well to the shots and later switched to a different form of treatment called Leukine.

Geer finally returned to the Padres' Spring Training facility in Arizona in September, where he received rehabilitation on his neck, getting it stretched back out after months of inactivity following surgery. He then got his arm into pitching shape during the Instructional League, with an eye on being ready for Spring Training.

"They got me somewhat game ready to pitch in a game, to see if my arm was fine after the surgery," he said. "I was back to my old self."

Geer, who made two starts last season for Triple-A Tucson, was a third-round Draft pick in 2005 out of Rice University. He was the Padres' Minor League Pitcher of the Year two years later, making his Major League debut with the team in 2008.

Geer was 3-8 with a 5.28 ERA in 24 games with the Padres in 2008 and 2009. He then spent all of the 2010 season in the Minor Leagues.

Whereas in the past, he has come to Peoria focused on either making the Padres' Opening Day roster or pitching well enough to open some eyes, Geer has a different perspective this spring. Make no mistake, he's still very competitive. He just knows that life is more than just about baseball.

"It makes me look at things a lot differently now. And the people that have to go through that, it's really tough. I don't know how they do it," Geer said. "It's in the past now. I'm moving forward. All I can do is do my thing and not worry about anything else."

Geer has been warmly received in his return to Peoria -- both from teammates who were with him last April when the melanoma was discovered, and members of the Tucson training staff.

"Being an athletic trainer, what we like to see is players getting back on the field. With Josh, it wasn't an injury, but you're hoping for him to come back," said Tucson trainer Wade Yamasaki. "To see him come back out and play baseball ... it makes you feel good inside."

Normalcy has returned to Geer's world. He had a PET scan (positron emission tomography) test before he came to Peoria that checked him "head-to-toe" for any abnormalities. He still sees a dermatologist and takes precaution with sun exposure. Other than that, it's business as usual.

"It has opened my eyes a lot more. I realize just how fortunate I was to have my family around me, my friends. To have that support and to have people praying for me," Geer said.

"You look at life differently. I'm very fortunate. I'm very blessed in many ways."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.