It's World Cancer day, and every day, millions fight several forms of a disease for which there is as yet no cure. We have lost many eminent names across fields to the disease. Treatment, rehabilitation and recovery are known to be draining, both physically and mentally, with a steep recovery curve.We bring you seven personalities across the sporting world who fought various forms of the deadly disease:
#7 Geoffrey Boycott: throat cancer
Now one of the most outspoken, popular commentators in cricket, Geoffrey Boycott had a prolific cricketing career that saw him hold a number of records for a time.
Boycott showed his cricketing prowess early, winning an award for batting when he was still in primary school, contributing to his team’s victory with bat and ball. Boycott’s early career saw him spend a significant time batting for Yorkshire, and was so successful with the bat that he was second in the national batting averages in his first season with the side.
He ended 1964 having topped England’s domestic batting average.
After his immense successes, he was called up to captaincy in 1971, holding the title for eight years. He would spend eighteen years with the English test side, scoring over 8100 runs in 100 tests for the team –and was the first ever English cricketer to pass 8000 runs.
Boycott remains sixth on the list of all-time run-scorers for the team.
He retired from international cricket in the early 1980s, and began commentating soon after, a role he quickly became popular in. Boycott became known for several catchphrases in that time, and continued to be a regular with commentary until 2002, when he was first diagnosed with cancer.
Whilst shaving, Boycott, who had at that point had been suffering from a persistent sore throat, found a lump in his throat that was eventually found to have been caused by no fewer than four tumours close to his vocal cords.
Cautioned against surgery, Boycott had thirty-five sessions of radiotherapy, and whilst in remission, returned to cricket commentary – in writing – for a year until he returned to on-air commentary in 2004.
Boycott continues to commentate to this day, and is one of the key voices behind the BBC’s Test Match Special.
#6 Jonas Gutierrez: testicular cancer
Deportivo midfielder Jonas Gutierrez began his international football career at 18, representing Argentine club Velez Sarsfield, moving on to one of Spain’s oldest football clubs, RCD Mallorca a few years later.
Capped for Argentina 22 times, he was regarded as an essential part of the international side alongside Lionel Messi by footballing legend Diego Maradona.
In 2008, Gutierrez was bought by English club Newcastle United, and two years later won the Championship title with the team. In 2015, Gutierrez, playing what would eventually be his last match with Newcastle, scored a goal on the final day of the season that would be crucial in saving the team from relegation.
He took Newcastle to a 2-0 victory over West Ham at St James’ Park, saving the team from eventual relegation in the league.
Only the previous year, in mid-September, Gutierrez revealed he had been diagnosed with, and was undergoing treatment for testicular cancer, which he had been diagnosed with following a game against Arsenal in 2013. During treatment for soreness in his groin following an injury, Gutierrez’ doctors initially misdiagnosed the issue before it escalated. Eventually, after the pain and inflmattio
Like cyclist Lance Armstrong, Gutierrez had an orchiectomy, with oncologists excising the testicle. That would not be the end of his battle against the disease, however.
In the time following his surgery, the Argentine had been loaned out to Norwich City for the remainder of the 2013-14 season. In that time, his pain returned, with the footballer experiencing serious swelling in his lymph nodes.
Nearly a year after his first surgery, Gutierrez began chemotherapy, only telling a few teammates of his battle, and was in remission at the time of his successes for Newcastle last year.
He alleged mismanagement by then-manager Alan Pardew, who he says told him to find a new club in the immediate aftermath of his orchiectomy, and was eventually let go by the team at the end of the 2015 season.
#5 Robin Jackman: throat cancer
He played four tests and 15 ODIs for England, but Robin Jackman is more known by fans worldwide for his work behind the microphone. One of modern-day cricket’s most well-loved commentators, ‘Jackers’ also bowled seam, taking 19 ODI wickets and 14 in tests for England in the late 1970s.
Jackman also mentored young cricketers, coaching his former team, Western Province in 1985 – after his own retirement from international cricket. He had played for them in the early 1970s, in a South Africa marred by apartheid.
The issue would dog Jackman through his career; the English team, on tour to the West Indies in 1980, faced serious pressure from the Guyanese goverment citing Jackman’s links to an apartheid-era South Africa.
The melee would leave the team unable to even leave their hotel, with the second test series between the teams, to be held in the capital, Georgetown, eventually cancelled.
In 2012, Jackman was diagnosed with cancer, with doctors finding multiple malignant tumours on his vocal cords. At the time, Jackman said in an interview that it “wasn’t pretty,” but that doctors had caught the disease in time and that he would “be fine.”
Following multiple surgeries to remove the tumours, Jackman also underwent seven weeks of radiotherapy and said then that he hoped to be back in the commentary box the following year.
Jackman went into remission, and is now cancer-free. He continues to provide commentary for several international series, among them the Indian Premier League.
#4 Lance Armstrong: Testicular cancer
In recent years, Armstrong has come to be associated with duplicity, doping scandals and the ignominy of cheating. But before he revealed that he had been taking performance-enhancing drugs throughout what had been a very successful professional cycling career, Lance Armstrong was a very public face for cancer fighters and survivors.
The cyclist fought a very aggressive form of testicular cancer when he was only in his 20s, overcoming it to continue participating sport.
Armstrong had already had sporting success as a teenager, becoming a professional triathlete at the age of 18. The following year, he became the USA’s national sprint-course triathlon champion.
In the following years, he would win several cycling tours and finish strongly at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, in his first ever Olympics. He had even won two Tour de France stages prior to his diagnosis.
That same year, Armstrong, only 25-years-old, received shattering news – not only that he had testicular cancer, but that the cancer had spread to his lung, brain and abdomen. He only went public with his diagnosis after already having begun chemotherapy, telling the New York Times at the time that he “fully intended to beat this disease.”
He revealed he had been “coughing up massive amounts of blood” and had a swollen testicle, with his urologist saying at the time he believed Armstrong had “almost no hope” of survival given his “kind of cancer” and the results his tests and x-rays had shown. The cancer was so bad that Armstrong had surgery to remove the testicle the day after he visited the doctor.
Told he had a “20-50%” chance of survival, Armstrong would undergo over 3 months of chemotherapy, during which time he lost his main cycling contract.
After a few years off the professional cycling circuit, Armstrong came back to cycling in 1998, winning a few cycling stage races and participating in Tours de France over the years, although doping allegations continued to dog him until his eventual final retirement in 2011 (he had previously announced it in 2005, but went on to cycle nevertheless).
Eventually, after several allegations and investigations, Armstrong admitted in 2013 that he had in fact been taking performance-enhancing drugs for a significant portion of his career, a confession that saw him stripped of his medals and endorsement deals.
Despite the scandals that have overshadowed his life and career since, Armstrong fought a very aggressive form of a cancer otherwise known for its high survival rates, and given almost no chance of survival, beat the odds.
He continues to work with several cancer charities to spread awareness of the disease and its treatment.
#3 Matthew Wade: Testicular cancer
Wade is one of the few athletes who began their sporting careers after being diagnosed with cancer. The Australian ODI keeper was only 16 when, at a school football camp, he was hit in the groin and examined for injury.
It was then that doctors detected a tumour, and Wade was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which he was told would likely never have been diagnosed had he not been hit.
Wade, who had been pursuing football in earnest at the time, later said in an interview that he had seriously considered leaving professional sport, as he was unsure of whether he could put up with the physical and mental exertion a full-time athletic career demanded.
The cricketer saw the light side of the incident, saying humorously in an interview that he was “...pretty lucky I got hit in the nuts and got it checked.” He immediately began the first of three eventual cycles of chemotherapy, and admitted they took a toll on him.
Despite this, Wade continued to train for both football and cricket in the interim, but said that he dialed back the intensity after it became ‘too difficult’ for him to cope.
Eventually, he was offered a rookie cricket contract by Tasmania, eventually moving to Victoria to pursue his cricketing career full time. He made his ODI debut for Australia in 2012 against India in Melbourne, and started keeping in 2013 – a role that he is currently still in for the ODI side.
#2 Martina Navratilova: Breast Cancer
She is widely considered the GOAT – the greatest of all time – in women’s tennis, and not without reason. Former World No. 1 Martina Navratilova has 18 singles Grand Slams – multiple at every venue.
She has another 31 Slam titles in the doubles, and 10 in the Mixed Doubles.
Navratilova, who emigrated to the United States from then-Czechoslovakia in 1975, was No. 1 for 332 weeks in the singles and 237 in the doubles – and thus became the only tennis player in the history of the game, male or female, to have held top spot in both for over 200 weeks.
Her on-court skills and records speak for themselves. She reached nineteen consecutive majors semi-finals, a feat that to this day remains unsurpassed – and 11 finals, only surpassed by another GOAT – Steffi Graf.
The now 59-year-old holds the Open Era record for having won eight different tournaments at least seven times apiece – yet another of her records that has yet to be broken by any player in the game since.
She has conquered every surface a tennis player could possibly play, and spent twenty consecutive years in the women’s top 10 in the singles, seven of those as World No. 1, and nineteen in the top 5.
Navratilova’s battles continued off-court as well. Dealing with homophobia, the openly-gay ace became a voice for gay rights after she came out.
In 2010, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, after doctors found a tumour in a routine mammogram. She was told then by doctors that had it been discovered a few months later, it could have been fatal.
Then 53, Navratilova underwent a lumpectomy – a surgical removal of the cancerous mass, following which she also had radiation therapy.
She is now cancer-free and an active voice for LGBT and cancer awareness and animal rights.
#1 Yuvraj Singh: lung cancer
The cricketer is among the most prominent personalities in cancer awareness in India nowadays. Diagnosed with a mediastal seminoma – a cancerous tumour between his lungs – in 2012, Singh moved to the United States of America for treatment.
Starring in India’s 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup victory, Yuvraj had been constantly fatigued, nauseous and dealing with dwindling energy levels. Despite this, he hit some mammoth knocks at the tournament, with India beating Sri Lanka in the finals.
Yuvraj won several man of the match awards. He was also the Man of the Series. But unbeknownst to the cricketer, the cause of his fatigue was not constant play but a tumour growing between his lungs, one that doctors said had been pressing against a lung and an artery and could easily have sent the then-31-year-old into cardiac arrest.
Undergoing three cycles of chemotherapy, he returned to the country after having missed that year’s season of the Indian Premier League – and Yuvi had shone at the T20 format.
He returned to the national side at the end of that year – 2012 – but less-than-ideal performances saw him dropped from both sides.
In recent years, Yuvraj saw himself selected – and then dropped again – from the national ODI and T20 sides, most recently in 2014, when, following a series of bad performances, he was let go of following that year’s T20 World Cup, losing in the finals to Sri Lanka, with a poor performance from Yuvraj that brought him under the scanner.
He sat out 2015, returning to international cricket last week with a meaningful performance against Australia that saw India take the T20 series in a whitewash against the home side.