Cancer is a horrific disease, a plague on our society that systematically breaks people down piece by piece, in the worst case scenarios, until their bodies can simply take no more. Even a top-tier athlete who is in the best shape of his life can be ripped to shreds by the disease, one that comes in a variety of deadly forms. Each and every year, the sports world loses noteworthy personalities to cancer, from recognizable names that make headlines to people who were anonymous to the majority of the nation. It was earlier this year when one of the faces of American sports television was taken from us far too soon.
Stuart Scott was, for many of us who grew up in the 1990s, the true star of ESPN SportsCenter morning shows. His trademark sayings and his ability to blend sports with hip-hop style in his own way turned Scott from your standard television presenter to a guy you wanted to watch during the morning as you prepared to go to school or got ready for a long day at work. Scott was truly a once in a generation TV personality, one who, after a long battle versus the disease, died of cancer in January 2015. He will truly be missed.
Thankfully, there are also stories that, to this date, have had happy twists and turns. Cancer can be a sneaky and tricky disease, one that returns and strikes victims multiple times. The athletes showcased in this piece have thus far notched victories over the dreaded disease. Not all of them, as you will see, have the most sparkling of reputations for one reason or another, but that does not at all diminish the fact that they defeated a foe that takes down far too many of its victims. Here is hoping that every athlete who has ever dealt with cancer or is doing so today also stands victorious when all is said and done.
11. Saku Koivu – NHL Forward (1992-2014)
It is only fitting that the list begins at No. 11 with the man who wore No. 11 for years. Koivu was flying from Finland back to North America for the 2001 National Hockey League pre-season when he began to feel discomfort in his stomach. He later learned that he had a tumour and malignant cells inside of his abdomen. Koivu bravely battled through and, to the surprise of many, returned to the ice in April 2002. He received a roaring ovation that lasted around five minutes before the opening face-off on his first night back in the NHL, and Koivu helped the Montreal Canadiens clinch a playoff spot that spring.
10. Jon Lester – MLB Pitcher (2006-Present)
The then-Boston Red Sox pitcher was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma during the summer of 2006 after he had complained to the club about having a sore back. Treatment for the lymphoma was successful, and Lester returned to the mound the following season. One could say that things have gone alright for him since the start of the 2007 Major League Baseball campaign. Lester is a two-time World Series champion, he is a three-time All-Star, he has a no-hitter on his resume, and he put pen to paper on a deal that will make him over $150 million as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
9. Josh Bidwell – NFL Punter (2000-2010)
Bidwell was preparing for his first ever National Football League season after being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1999 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He missed his entire rookie campaign because of the illness, but be battled back and ultimately won the starting gig in Green Bay. After four years with the Packers, Bidwell linked up with the Washington Redskins. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the 2005 NFL regular season, during which he was an All-Pro. Bidwell’s last appearance in an NFL game came in 2010. He played in four total contests during that season.
8. Yuvraj Singh – Cricketer (2003-Present)
The Indian international cricketer was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor inside of his left lung in 2011. Yuvraj underwent chemotherapy in the United States – specifically in Boston and Indianapolis, and he completed his final cycle of chemotherapy in March of 2012. He showed full signs of remission following treatment, and thus he returned to India with the hopes of featuring at the World Twenty20. Yuvraj was picked for the 15-member Indian Squad for the World Twenty20, and he has been awarded with the Arjuna Award, the second highest sporting award in India, as well as the Padma Shri Award.
7. Eric Abidal – Footballer (1999-2014)
The French footballer was featuring for Barcelona in March of 2011 when the Spanish giants announced it had learned that Abidal had a tumor on his liver. He returned to the pitch two months later, and Abidal was presented with the honor of wearing the captain’s armband for the Champions League Final involving Barca and Manchester United. Barcelona, as expected, went on to win the match and the title, and Abidal was the first in the team to hoist the Champions League trophy. Abidal underwent a liver transplant the following March, and he retired as an active player after brief stints with two other clubs.
6. Scott Hamilton – Figure Skater (Retired in 1984)
Hamilton is widely regarded as one of the greatest American figure skaters in history, a winner of multiple United States and World Championships and also of an Olympic gold medal. He went through what was a much-publicized fight against testicular cancer in 1997, and he made his return to the ice shortly after he completed treatments. Hamilton would later become the founder of the Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative, a “cancer alliance for research, education and survivorship.” The gold medalist has also worked with organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
5. John Kruk – MLB First Baseman/Outfielder (1986-1995)
Long before he was a television analyst for ESPN program Baseball Tonight, Kruk was a fan-favorite slugger preparing for the 1994 Major League Baseball season. During spring training for that year, Kruk was hit in the groin with an errant throw from a teammate. He was later diagnosed with testicular cancer, and he was required to have a testicle removed. His attempted comeback to the Philadelphia Phillies did not go well, and he retired the next summer while playing for the Chicago White Sox. Cancer has never again affected the former player, who is enjoying a successful stint working for the Worldwide Leader.
4. Mark Herzlich – NFL Linebacker (2011-Present)
Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich was a standout defensive player on his way to becoming a top-ten pick in a National Football League Draft when he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. Herzlich defeated that disease and returned to the football field the following year, and he was invited to attend the 2011 NFL Draft. While Herzlich went undrafted, the New York Giants took a flier on the linebacker during the summer months. That worked out well for all parties. Herzlich earned a contract with the club, and the Giants defeated the New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLVI.
3. Andres Galarraga – MLB First Baseman (1985-2004)
Andres Galarraga was preparing for the 1999 Major League Baseball season when he began suffering from a sore back. After standard treatments did nothing to ease the pain, Galarraga learned that he had a form of lymphatic cancer. Chemotherapy and all that comes with fighting such a disease resulted in Galarraga being forced to sit out the entire season. He made his return to the field the following year, and what a return it was. Galarraga post All-Star numbers, and he was awarded with the Comeback Player of the Year Award for the National League. The Big Cat played through the 2005 campaign.
2. Mario Lemieux – NHL Centre (1984–1997, 2000–2006)
Lemieux was one of the best players in the National Hockey League in January 1993 when he announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Not only did Lemieux defeat the disease, he played while undergoing treatments for a period of time. While health issues forced Lemieux from the game for several years, he amazed fans by completing an astonishing return to action, almost as if he had never left at all. Last but certainly not least, Lemieux swooped in and purchased the Penguins when the team was reportedly being shopped to other markets, a move that kept the team in Pittsburgh.
1. Lance Armstrong – Road Racing Cyclist
The days of Lance Armstrong being the greatest professional road racing cyclist in the history of the United States are now a thing of the past. After years of investigations, testimonies, and denials of any wrongdoing from Armstrong, he was unceremoniously stripped of all of his Tour de France awards. Armstrong was then removed as the face of the Livestrong Foundation he helped to create. His reputation as a cheater in a sport filled with cheaters is set in stone, but nobody should forget all that Armstrong did to bring awareness to the disease and all of the money that he helped raise in order to fight forms of cancer.