Cancer Survivors in the Sports World
It's a disease that has touched pretty much everyone in the world in one way or another.
Either yourself, someone you know, or someone they know is afflicted in someway with some form of cancer.
With the warm weather now working its way across North America, countless organizations have begun their annual bike rides, walks/runs, motorcycle rides, etc. to get support and attention to fight this dreaded disease.
To get some inspiration, I decided to put a list of just some of the athletes who have suffered through and won their battles with cancer.
Clearly Lance Armstrong (pictured) is the most well known one. His epic fight from cancer to claim seven Tour de France wins puts him at the forefront of athletes who have overcome this tremendous obstacle.
Now, let's look at a few others.
John Kruk - MLB
One of the most popular and well spoken players in baseball in the early 1990's, John Kruk was diagnosed with testicular cancer in April of 1994.
He had successful surgery to remove the testicle and returned for 75 games that season.
Kruck retired during the 1995 season with a career .300 batting average and 100 HR.
Kruk is currently an analyst on ESPN's Baseball Tonight
Paul Azinger - PGA
Shortly after winning the PGA Championship in 1993, Paul Azinger was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
His treatment included six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation in California.
He wrote a book called Zinger about his battle with the disease .
In 1995, Azinger received the GWAA Ben Hogan Award. This award is given to the individual who has continued to be active in golf despite physical handicap or serious illness.
In 2000, he won his first tournament in seven seasons at the Sony Open in Hawaii, and led the US to a Ryder Cup victory in 2008.
Edna Campbell - WNBA
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, Edna Campbell returned from treatment that same season, playing a total of 12 minutes in the final game.
Campbell continued to play despite the cancer, and has become a symbol of strength to some survivors of the disease.
She became the WNBA's national spokesperson for its anti-cancer efforts with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Campbell received the league's Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award in 2003. Campbell retired from the WNBA shortly before the 2006-2007 season.
Her return from breast cancer was nominated by fans as "most inspirational" and one of the top four WNBA Anniversary decade moments.
Mario Lemieux - NHL
Mario Lemieux is the most notable of NHL players to have battled cancer.
In the 1992-1993 season, with two consecutive Stanley Cups already added to his impressive hockey resume, Mario Lemieux was on target to break Wayne Gretzky's season record of 92 goals and 215 points.
But on January 12th, 1993, he made the shocking announcement that he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
He was forced to undergo energy-draining aggressive radiation treatments, leaving his career, and possibly his survival, in doubt. He missed two months of play, and without him, the Penguins struggled.
When he returned, he was 12 points behind Buffalo's Pat LaFontaine in the scoring race.
On the day of his last radiation treatment, Lemieux flew to Philadelphia to play against the Flyers.
He scored a goal and an assist in a 5-4 loss, and earned a standing ovation from Philadelphia fans — a rare occurrence for a visiting player after the game.
The Penguins, led by Lemieux, went on a 17-game winning streak to claim first place overall.
Lemieux also caught up to, and passed, LaFontaine for the scoring title with 160 points in 60 games.
He added a third Stanley Cup with the Penguins, as an owner, this past June.
Zach Gowen - Pro Wrestling
Zach Gowen had his leg amputated, due to cancer, at age eight.
Despite the disability, he was determined to live out his dream to become a professional wrestler.
He reached his peak in 2003-2004 when he was signed by the WWE and took on foes such as Roddy Roddy Piper, Mr. McMahon, Brock Lesnar, and the Big Show, amongst others.
He would appear on TNA in 2005-2006, and continues to wrestle on the independent circuit.
Gowen can wrestle with or without a prosthetic leg.
Josh Bidwell - NFL
After earning a roster spot with the Green Bay Packers as a rookie, Josh Bidwell learned weeks later that he had testicular cancer.
Despite missing the season for treatment, he returned the following year and is now the punter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
An ESPN article on his story can be found here.
Brett Butler - MLB
Many consider Brett Butler to be one of the best leadoff hitters of the 1980s and early 1990s.
He had a career .290 batting average with 2,375 hits and 558 stolen bases.
In May 1996, Butler learned that he was suffering from Squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsils, a type of cancer which only rarely involves the tonsils.
Following an operation to remove the tumor and intensive treatment to combat the disease, he returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers' lineup in September of the same year.
Butler defied the predictions of those who speculated he would never be able to play again.
Butler finished the 1996 season, winning both the Lou Gehrig Memorial and Branch Rickey awards.
He played his last season in 1997, with his final game on September 28th.
Butler is currently the manager of the Reno Aces, the AAA affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Scott Hamilton - Figure Skating
Without question, Scott Hamilton is one of, if not the, most famous figure skater in U.S. history.
In 1997, Hamilton had a much-publicized battle with testicular cancer.
He made a return to skating after treatment, and his story was featured in magazines and on television.
It was announced on November 12th, 2004 that Hamilton had a benign brain tumor, which was treated at the Cleveland Clinic.
Despite retiring from active professional skating in 2001, Hamilton still makes occasional guest appearances for Stars on Ice.
A healthy Hamilton most recently appeared on television in the second season of Celebrity Apprentice.
He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics International.
Saku Koivu - NHL
Koivu, captain of the Montreal Canadiens, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in September 2001, missing practically the entire 2001–2002 NHL season.
He made an amazing recovery and fans gave him an eight-minute standing ovation when he skated onto the Molson Centre ice for the first time April 9th, 2002.
His return, just in time for the playoffs, helped lead the Canadiens to an unlikely first-round upset of the number one ranked Boston Bruins.
For his courage and off-ice team leadership while undergoing cancer treatment, he was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
He followed up in the 2002–2003 NHL season by scoring his then career best single-season point total with 71 (21 goals, 50 assists).
Koivu was featured in the Simple Plan music video for the song Save You, which was originally written for the lead singer's brother.
The music video features many cancer survivors such as Koivu.
He also created the Saku Koivu Foundation that supports cancer patients in the Montreal area.
Two other recent cancer survivors in the NHL include John Cullen, who returned from Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after missing the 1997-1998 season, and the Boston Bruins' Phil Kessel, who missed eleven games during his rookie season from testicular cancer in 2006-2007.
Both of these players also won the Masterton Trophy.
Eric Davis - MLB
Eric Davis was one of the best outfielders in baseball, helping to lead the Cincinatti Reds to a World Series title in 1990.
In 1996, after battles with injuries, he won the MLB Comeback Player of the Year award.
A year later, as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, Davis was devastated to learn that he had colon cancer.
He vowed to return that season, although most felt it would be unlikely for him to recover in time, especially as he was forced to have an ileo-anal pouch.
By September, while he was still in treatment, Davis returned to the team.
His cancer treatment had left him tired, but he worked hard to regain his form. He was well-enough to hammer a game winning home run in the 1997 American League Championship Series.
After the season, he was given the Roberto Clemente Award.
Davis was brought back for 1998 and went on to have one of his best seasons, batting .327, the fourth best average in the AL, with 28 HR.
He also hit in 30 consecutive games that season.
Davis retired as a member of the San Francisco Giants
He serves as an honorary board member of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
More info can be found on his web site.
Let's Conquer Cancer!
Just a handful of professional athletes who have fought and won their battles with cancer.
The image in this slide is from a tribute to the great Walter Payton at Soldier Field, November 1999.
There are far too many athletes that we've lost in the sporting world to cancer to list.
I thought this image was a great way to remember them all.
We also need to acknowledge the countless number of cancer survivors at the non-professional level who have conquered and achieved their own personal goals: climb a mountain, run a marathon, compete in a triathalon, etc.
I'd like to invite all readers to share their stories here on their personal battles with cancer.
I also challenge you all to get involved in the fight against cancer.
Join/sponsor a walk/run, throw a nickle in a donation box; whatever you can do or offer to win the battle will help.
You can even sponsor me in the Father's Day Walk to fight prostate cancer.
In any event, let's all do our part.