Cancer beat the odds afflicting former Alabama WR John Metchie

It wasn’t supposed to happen to John Metchie III.

It wasn’t supposed to happen to Eric Berry either.

Or James Conner.

Or Trent Williams.

Or Shon Coleman.

Of course, the list of top football players struck down by one form of cancer or another during some of the early years of their sporting lives is longer. Metchie lengthened it by a Monday when the former University of Alabama wide receiver announced that he had been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). The Houston Texans’ second-round pick will likely miss his rookie season this fall as he battles this plague of illness.

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Whether these men play football or are athletes of any kind is, of course, irrelevant to the seriousness of a life-and-death health struggle. Their life is no more important than anyone else in the same situation. Cancer killed 602,350 Americans in 2020, the nation’s second-largest killer that year behind heart disease according to the CDC, and every one of those results is equally chilling.

Ask the survivors.

Yet athletes like Metchie who suddenly find themselves in a battle with cancer are stark reminders that cancer can be an indiscriminate threat. He hunts where he hunts. We mistakenly attach an air of physical invincibility to elite athletes that cancer is not supposed to be able to penetrate. The torn ACL suffered by Metchie in last December’s SEC Championship Game was considered at the time a serious misfortune for both his season and his draft status.

Now that’s an afterthought.

But while cancer can afflict anyone at any time, there’s a reason the public reaction to Metchie and the other top athletes who faced her struggle is always shocking. The average age of a cancer patient is 66 years old. Metchie is too old for childhood cancer and too young for a colonoscopy. Studies show that regular exercise, healthy eating and not smoking – three basics for serious athletes – could prevent up to 40% of cancer deaths. Metchie takes better care of her body than you and me.

But nowhere is a body so good that cancer can’t find it.

So for Metchie, we’re left with trying to find hidden blessings in what is objectively terrible news. Here’s one: He’s probably much more financially secure now, having signed a four-year, $8.07 million contract as the 44th overall pick in the NFL Draft, than he would be if the diagnosis came from of his medical examination at the NFL Scouting Combine. Every potential health issue is thoroughly explored there, and a discovery of leukemia at the combine probably would have hurt his draft condition far more than his knee injury could have.

Here’s another one: Alabama coach Nick Saban pointed to the city of Houston stellar reputation for medical care.

Metchie himself, in publicizing his diagnosis, noted that he would struggle with the most curable form leukemia.

No, that wasn’t supposed to happen to a dynamic youngster who was athletic enough to compete in professional sports. But now that Cancer has beaten the odds against it, Metchie can only grab whatever bright spot he can and beat his own odds.

Contact Chase Goodbread at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread

Chase Goodbread, sports columnist for Tuscaloosa News.

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