Newcastle winger Jonas Gutierrez recently completed the Buenos Aires Marathon, just over a month after announcing his diagnosis with testicular cancer. Gutierrez, who was diagnosed with the condition last year, publicly revealed his condition in September, and has since been active in raising awareness and donations for cancer charity FUCA (Fundación Cáncer, known in English as the Foundation for Research, Teaching and Cancer Prevention) in his native Argentina. Despite currently undergoing chemotherapy, Gutierrez completed the 26.2 mile race before posing with fans and fellow participants following the race’s completion. Describing facing cancer as “the biggest match of [his] life”, Gutierrez’s diagnosis and continued public profile have resulted in widespread support. As appreciated as the monetary donations FUCA received from the Argentine’s efforts will be, perhaps the larger contribution made by Gutierrez’s participation is the awareness raised.
The importance of this awareness primarily lies in increasing instances of early diagnosis, which can be vital in the treatment of testicular cancer. According to recent statistics compiled by SEER, early diagnosed testicular cancer has an encouragingly high recovery rate, with a 99% 5-year survival rate for instances without the cancer spreading. Even in cases of spread, the 5-year prognoses remain encouraging. As cited by Feldman et al in “Medical Treatment of Advanced Testicular Cancer”, with spread into nearby lymph nodes reporting a 96% survival rate and more distant spread still finding an 80% rate of successful chemotherapy treatment. With testicular cancer the most common cancer found in males between 20 and 39 years of age, increased awareness and lessened stigma surrounding the disease might yield increases in early diagnosis and ultimately save lives.
Gutierrez, nicknamed El Galgo (“The Greyhound”), spoke publicly after the race, and was quick to congratulate his fellow runners. Continuing his well wishes on Twitter, he wrote “Thank you very much to all the participants of the Buenos Aires Marathon 42k for the support and encouragement during the race”. Remaining on the books at St. James’ Park, Gutierrez’s cancer was discovered as a direct result of his career in football. Following contact with former Arsenal fullback Bacary Sagna while playing for Newcastle in a game with Arsenal in May 2013 he visited a doctor after experiencing soreness. Originally thought to be simply inflammation resulting from the challenge, an ultrasound uncovered a cancerous tumour.
Electing the surgical route, Gutierrez subsequently had his left testicle removed. With indications of localised spreading in the liver and lymph nodes, Gutierrez began chemotherapy in the off-season before spending time on loan at Norwich. Choosing to keep his diagnosis from the press, he waited over a year before announcing his condition. Close friends Ezequiel Lavezzi, Martin Demichelis, Gabriel Heinze and Newcastle teammate Fabricio Collocini were the only members of professional football made aware of the situation, all of whom were praised by Gutierrez in a recent interview for their support. Commenting to press last month, Gutierrez stated he had one session of chemotherapy remaining before he began a two month period of recuperation.
In an enormous outpouring of support, football fans all over the world have sent encouragement and championed the fan favourite. In particular, former West Ham forward John Hartson took to Twitter to share his experience with the same condition and also called attention to the “huge factor” of early diagnosis in a bid, to both offer support to Gutierrez and highlight the role played by proper examination and early treatment.
As the public rallies around him, Gutierrez’s provide offer an uplifting story of confidence and achievement in the face of adversity, and raises awareness of how similar cases might be prevented and the vital role of early diagnosis in successfully overcoming testicular cancer.
How might the public respond to Gutierrez’s efforts and further educate themselves about testicular cancer?