MLB Pitcher Chad Bettis Opens Up about Battling Testicular Cancer, Becoming a Father, and Mounting a Major-League Comeback
by Laura Shipp
When Colorado Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis found out he had cancer, he was celebrating his first anniversary with his wife, Kristina, over an intimate dinner at the Arizona resort where they had exchanged their wedding vows. She was five months pregnant with their first child.
“It was definitely a big surprise,” Chad reveals in an interview with Coping® magazine. “We were pregnant with our little daughter and really excited to bring her into this world. But then to find out that we were going to have to battle cancer at the same time, we had a lot of questions about what that was going to look like and how to handle that.”
A few days prior, in November 2016, Chad had discovered a small lump on one of his testicles while performing a self-exam. The 27-year-old promptly brought it to the attention of his doctor. When tests revealed that the lump was testicular cancer, Chad underwent surgery right away to have the affected testicle removed.
“When you hear those words, you have cancer, regardless of what kind it is, it’s a gut check,” Chad says. “You start to really appreciate the smaller things in life.”
Chad’s surgery went well, there was no need for chemotherapy or radiation, and Chad had fully recovered when it came time to report to spring training the following February.
When you hear those words, you have cancer, regardless of what kind it is, it’s a gut check.
“So, we thought that we’d kind of beat it,” says Chad, “and that everything was just going to proceed back to normal life.” His daughter was due to arrive in late March, and things were looking good. That is, until March 10, less than a month away from Opening Day, when routine follow-up tests revealed that Chad’s cancer had spread to his lymph nodes.
Chad’s return to Major League Baseball was put on hold. He was now going to need chemotherapy – 21 infusions over the course of nine weeks. He started chemo on March 20, just nine days before his daughter, Everleigh, was to be born.
“She could come into this world any second,” Chad recalls thinking when he began chemotherapy so close to his daughter’s due date. “How are we going to be working around the chemo and Everleigh coming to life? It was a whirlwind. Questions came up like, Do I get to hold my daughter? Am I going to be strong enough? What are the side effects of the chemo? Will I be able to be there when she’s born? Was that going to be on her due date? We didn’t know.”
Everleigh Rae Bettis was born on March 29, 2017. And, yes, her adoring father was there for her birth.
“When Everleigh was born, everything kind of shifted,” Chad says. “The attention was off me. It was, How’s Kristina doing? How’s Everleigh? Is everybody healthy? Oh, and by the way, how are you doing? And that’s how I wanted it.”
Chad says becoming a father is the thing he’s most proud of in his life. “When you see your daughter for the very first time, and it’s instant love, it’s knee buckling,” he says. “It’s hard to put into words how meaningful it is. It’s life changing.”
Chad had his final chemo treatment that spring, on May 16. A few weeks later, he started prepping for his return to the Major Leagues.
“Baseball has been a lifelong dream of mine. Ever since I was a kid, this is what I wanted to do. This is what I felt like I was put here for,” Chad says. “I was really determined to get back to playing big-league baseball again. It was on the back burner at that point. And everything was about taking care of my life and my family and being healthy. But it wasn’t something that I ever doubted would happen again. It was just a matter of when.”
The “when” came on August 14, 2017. That evening, to a standing ovation from the hometown crowd, Chad Bettis took the mound at Coors Field in Denver, CO, to pitch his first Major League Baseball game as a cancer survivor. Going up against the Atlanta Braves, he pitched seven scoreless innings, struck out two batters, and gave up only six hits. That night, the Colorado Rockies beat the Braves 3-0.
“It’s tough to put into words what that felt like,” Chad says. “It was hard to hold back tears driving to the field that day and warming up for the game. It’s something that I’ll never forget. It was more than just baseball that day.”
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2019.