Bettis: An unexpected curveball

Rockies pitcher and cancer survivor stresses importance of early detection

July 12th, 2017

During the Stand Up To Cancer Moment at the conclusion of the fifth inning of the 88th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday night, Rockies teammates held up a card with Colorado starter ' name on it. The following essay was written by Bettis prior to that poignant moment.

Usually, I'm the one throwing the balls. As a pitcher, that's my job. But in November 2016, life had other plans. I was diagnosed with cancer. Testicular cancer. Yes, that is cancer of the balls, and the comedic irony is not lost on me.

Thank God my wife, Kristina, and I were expecting, because at a routine prenatal checkup, the obstetrician said she needed to do a breast examination, because it's sometimes possible during pregnancy to find new lumps. It made me stop and think, "When was the last time I examined myself?"

That night in the shower, I did that self-exam ... and found a bump that didn't belong there. I didn't "freak out." I just thought to myself, "OK, don't panic. I will look again tomorrow, and if it's still there, I'll talk to my trainers."

Stand Up To Cancer

That night while my wife slept, I spent the night online searching for what it might mean. That's when I found information about testicular cancer.

The next morning, again in the shower, I did another self-exam and the lump was still there. I kicked into high gear; spoke to my trainers and the team physician, who ordered an ultrasound, which was inconclusive. Then they took blood tests to look for "tumor markers."

I was immediately referred to a urologist, and when it was time for him to deliver my diagnosis, I told him to throw it right at me. I needed clear input, ready to act whatever the news.

But when the doctor said, "I'm going to tell it to you straight -- not beat around the bush -- you have testicular cancer," all I really heard was "CANCER." You're never prepared to hear the word cancer. You don't want to think about that!

The urologist told me I'd likely need surgery, and he advised me, my wife and parents, who were with us, to think about it for a bit before discussing how to proceed.

We talked for about 30 minutes, and then we told the doctor we're ready to proceed with the next steps. I was referred to a surgeon and went under the knife the very next day! My feeling was, "Good, let's do it, I want this out of me -- now -- sooner rather than later." We'd figure out the next steps later.

The surgery went well, and I was followed closely with CT scans and blood work. Based on those tests, no chemo or radiation was recommended. I continued to be followed very proactively. "THE GAME PLAN" was just regular blood work and CT scans every six weeks.

But in March 2017, while my blood work continued to be normal and didn't show any rise in tumor markers, a CT scan showed some enlarged lymph nodes.

I took a "chemo class," at the same time my wife, Kristina, and I were finishing "childbirth class." On March 20, 2017, I started my first round of chemo, and nine days later, March 29, we welcomed our daughter, Everleigh. There is no greater dose of medicine in this world than the joy of a new baby. My resolve to get better was at peak velocity.

We were really able to focus on recovery -- both myself and Kristina -- because of the love and support of family, and my teammates, too. The Rockies arranged house cleaning services and meal delivery. Kristina's parents came and stayed with us for a month following Everleigh's birth. And my parents, who were there from the moment of diagnosis, returned to help us move from Arizona to Colorado. With so much in flux, it's because of these caregivers and loved ones that we made it through one tough play.

Today, my treatment is finished and I feel great! With my doctor's approval and supervision, I've started to train again, getting ready to return to the pitcher's mound. I want everyone to know how important it is to know your own body. Testicular cancer is a young man's disease. In fact, it's the most common type of cancer in men aged 15-34 years.

The disease has some clear, easy symptoms to recognize, such as:

• Any enlargement of a testicle

• A significant loss of size in one of the testicles

• A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum

• A dull ache in the lower abdomen, back or in the groin

• A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum

• Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum

• Enlargement or tenderness of the breasts

More often than not, it's men themselves who find the disease, so please know what your "normal" is and examine yourself. Early detection gives more treatment options, and when found early, the survival rate is 99 percent. There is no reason for us to bury our heads in the sand. If we want to return to the pitcher's mound in our own lives -- literally or metaphorically -- and keep throwing those balls, my message is clear. Check them out!

For me, I know there is so much to live for. There are wonderful people in my life, especially my incredible ladies, Kristina and Everleigh.