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Mark PrydeWed 13 Oct 2010 22:07
In a football career that spanned over 18 years with top European clubs such as Celtic and Arsenal, John Hartson carved a name for himself as a player who scored the important goals. Never though did he once imagine that it was goals, albeit of a different variety, that would help him fight off death and live to see the birth of his baby daughter.
In July 2009 at the age of just 33, the man hailed as ‘Big Bad John’ by adoring Celtic fans was diagnosed with cancer. Despite living a healthy life and training every day, John had found a lump on his testicles and his worst fears were confirmed when a doctor told the husband and father of three that they had found a strand of testicular cancer that had now spread to his lungs and brain.
Speaking to The Hour, John relived the moment he was told he had the disease and how setting a goal to see his unborn child got him through it all.
He said: “It’s heartbreaking. I didn’t tell anybody, I just cried in my car. Just the word cancer puts the fear of god into you, puts the wind up you.
“I had to have those two days to come to terms with what they had just told me. I was this fit lad who had trained every day of his life for 18 years, and then at 33 years of age to be struck down with such a disease is such a horrible thing.
“There are lots of families who suffer from it of course. I told my wife first of all, then I told my mum and dad and then I told the kids.”
While lying in his hospital bed the former footballer was kept company by his doting children and pregnant girlfriend Sarah - whom he later married. Brave John quickly decided that he would battle on and live to see the birth of his daughter.
“It was my family that got me through it,” said John. “It was having goals and receiving the amount of mail I got with people saying be positive.
“We had a one year old daughter and my wife was pregnant so I thought I have to live to see this baby being born, I can’t let these children go on without a father.
“It was having the goals that really got me through it. Boxes and boxes of mail from Rangers supporters, Cardiff City supporters, fans I hadn’t got on with over the years, mainly due to my own stupidity...they all got behind me. The support I got, I'll never be able to thank them enough.”
After six weeks in hospital and several sessions of chemotherapy, John finally received some good news; his cancer treatment was working. Now back to the fit and healthy state that saw him become one of Celtic’s most revered strikers the proud Welshman is on a mission to help other men avoid becoming the victim to a cruel and avoidable disease.
His new book, Please Don’t Go, is a self-written account of John’s six month battle with testicular cancer and the ups and downs that went with it. All proceeds of the book’s sales will go towards the John Hartson foundation and the man himself hopes it will save lives.
He added: “I think it [the book] will save lives. It’s inspiring. It’s not a fairytale, its true.
“I want to sell millions, take it global and really get it out there. Help and support for breast cancer and bowel cancer is widely available but there’s not enough awareness of testicular cancer. Don’t leave it too late.”
Please Don't Go is out now. Anyone wishing to contribute to the John Hartson Foundation can do so via their website.
Big Bad John