Cancer is sadly a fairly commonplace disease nowadays and unfortunately one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
Though cancer is not so common in athletes compared to non-athletes, there were a number of incidents where athletes suffered from a form of cancer during their careers.
This article will take a look at some of the elite players that managed to beat this wretched disease.
On the 15th of March 2011, Barcelona made it public that Eric Abidal had been diagnosed with a neoplasm in his liver. Two days later Abidal had undergone surgery. Two and a half months later, the French defender played for 90 minutes in the Champions League final against Manchester United where Barcelona won the trophy with a 3-1 score. Carles Puyol, who was the captain of Barcelona, gave him the captain’s armband and allowed him to be the first to lift the trophy in a full Wembley stadium.
A year after the first announcement of his club, Barcelona announced that Abidal had to undergo a liver transplant due to complications from his first operation. On the 10th of April 2012, he went through the surgery with his cousin Gerard as the donor. Eric Abidal has stated that his teammate Dani Alves offered to donate part of his liver for the transplant but the Frenchman denied that as it would have affected his teammate’s later career.
“Dani Alves offered to donate part of his liver.”
Abidal went through all necessary health treatments and fully returned back to action with Barcelona on the 18th of December 2012. At the end of the season he left the club for Monaco playing a year before moving to Olympiacos for his last 6 months in professional football.
Since June 2018 he has been Barcelona’s director of football.
During 2004 and while playing for Chelsea, Arjen Robben had a serious health issue as he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. As the Dutchman has admitted, the doctor had initially told him that he would need an operation in order to overcome the little lump in his testicles.
According to Arjen Robben, the few days that he had to wait until the results were out, were some of the most terrible and stressful in his life. Fortunately for Arjen, he didn’t need an operation and through treatment alone, he managed to fully recover and return to action. During the same year, and after he was back in the team, Robben celebrated Chelsea’s first Premiership title in 50 years before achieving it again the next season.
Below are Robben’s words in regard to his health issue:
“I found a little lump and went to the doctor. He told me I needed an operation. I then had to wait for the results and I didn’t know if it was going to be good or bad news. The waiting was terrible for a few days.
“Football is my life but my family’s health is the most important thing in the world.”
I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. It was a horrible wait, then I heard the news was good and it was a massive relief.
At that time football was no longer important – the most important thing is to be healthy and for your family to be healthy. Football is my life but my family’s health is the most important thing in the world.”
The Argentinian defender also suffered from testicular cancer while being at Newcastle United, however, his case was much more serious compared to Robben. After a game against Arsenal in May of 2013, Jonas Gutierrez felt an intense pain on his left testicle following a challenge by Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna.
Soon after the game, Gutierrez was diagnosed with testicular cancer. In October 2013, the Argentinian player had undergone a surgery removing his testicle in order to prevent cancer from spreading. A month later he was back at Newcastle, however, the club loaned him to Norwich in January 2014 for the rest of the season.
At the end of the season and while on holidays, Jonas felt pain in the liver and swelling of his lymph nodes. He immediately then started chemotherapy treatment as the disease had unfortunately spread.
On the 3rd of November 2014, he was out of the hospital once again and followed a recovery plan. He was back on the pitch with Newcastle United on the 4th of March 2015 as a substitute against Manchester United.
On his final day with Newcastle, Jonas assisted the first and scored the second goal to ensure Newcastle United stayed in the Premier League with a 2–0 win at home to West Ham United. Despite that he had full respect for Newcastle United fans as they supported him throughout his battle with cancer, he didn’t feel the same respect for the owners of the club as he wasn’t being treated with humanity and respect.
On the 14th of April 2016, Gutiérrez won a disability discrimination lawsuit against Newcastle, on the basis that by not being selected for the team due to his diagnosis he was unable to get an appearances-related bonus.
Jonas would tell local newspaper Chronicle Live: “There are all sorts of different ones (cancers), but it is clear that it is very important to prevent it, to attend your control meetings and if you have to go through a situation like this, to have faith on anything, to surround yourself with the people you love and always look ahead.”
The Bulgarian midfielder, while he was the captain of Aston Villa, on the 30th of March 2012, was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. The diagnosis took place after Petrov had a fever at the end of a game against Arsenal.
Despite having started treatment with chemotherapy, he remained as a captain of Aston Villa for the following season 2012-13. On the 2nd of August 2012, it was announced that Petrov’s leukaemia was in remission, however, as he had now been 34 years old, Petrov announced his retirement from football.
After he retired he founded the Petrov Foundation as a charity to fund cancer research and support families struggling with the disease. The Petrov Foundation managed to raise significant amounts of money for their causes.
Below are some of his quotes in regard to his experience with the disease, in addition to the importance of the help he received from his wife:
“When I was going through parts of my chemo, I wanted to stop. The pain was too much. I was ready to stop and take my chances but Paulina was having none of it.
“The pain was too much. I was ready to stop.”
She wouldn’t allow it and said I had too much to live for and I was going to recover fully. She was right. She has had to cope with so much in the past few years and she has been the strength that kept us all going.”
Jose Fransisco Molina
Molina is an ex-goalkeeper and football coach who retired in 2007 and is currently the sporting director of the Royal Spanish Football Federation.
On the 14th of October 2002, and while he was playing for Deportivo La Coruna, it was announced that he suffered from testicular cancer.
The Spanish goalkeeper had announced a temporary retirement in order to fight the disease at his home city of Valencia.
87 days later and after undergoing intense chemotherapy Molina was back in training with Deportivo La Coruna.
He went on to play three more years for Deportivo before closing his career at Levante in 2007.