Road to recovery for Stephen Gonzalez: “Just taking every day, day-by-day”

By Luke Hertzler – Horizon News & Features

Walking into the Campus Activity Center on Jan. 19 at 4 in the afternoon, it might have felt like a regular Friday soccer practice. The team stretched, passed, and played as usual. But for Stephen Gonzalez it was anything but normal.

This was Gonzalez’s first time back with the team since the Fall of 2016, when he was diagnosed with cancer. Once practice had begun, Gonzalez rediscovered his niche immediately: dribbling the ball as though he were gliding on ice, bagging the first goal of the evening. Gonzalez was back.

“I was getting back on the field and doing what I love, so I was really really excited.”

Gonzalez with his sister and brother. Photo courtesy of Stephen Gonzalez.

His journey all started mid-soccer season, when Gonzalez’s back started to give him problems. He went to the trainers, and they treated him for a muscle strain, but nothing was really helping. When he went to the doctor in October it was the first time he heard his doctor mention the possibility of cancer. The doctors performed a biopsy, and results showed Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare cancer that develops in bones.

“It was definitely a lot to take in at once when I got diagnosed.” But Gonzalez was unphased. “I knew I would come out of it.”

From that moment, his doctor and nurses worked to create the best plan of action for treatment.

“My family, they got hit pretty hard from it at the beginning, but..from the way I was acting they felt a lot better because I was so positive,” he said.

His church got involved with the situation right away as well. “They made bracelets, so they passed them around to all the… people in church, and they’re all supporting me, so I was grateful for that as well.”

Gonzalez began treatments in mid-December in Dallas, about six hours away from his home in Rockport, staying with his aunt as he underwent chemotherapy and radiation.

“As far as the treatment went, it was pretty tough on my body.”

That’s not a surprise. Gonzalez started off with highly aggressive chemotherapy to attack the cancer right away. Afterwards, he would feel the effects through intense headaches and nausea. Once he felt better he would leave his aunt’s house to head back home.

“The doctor said that I took [it better]…than most people.”

On March 21 he had a final surgery to take out the cancerous bone. Doctors inserted a metal rod in its place. It’s taken him a while to get used to it, but now he’s comfortable enough to play soccer again.

“Right when… they gave me the clear I was picking up a soccer ball, doing something,” he said. Even if my dad or family was like, ‘take a break, [you] don’t need to be doing that,’ I would just want to be out there doing something.”

Stephen’s always had a deep passion for soccer, playing it since he was a kid. But he has also felt like he’s taken the opportunity to play for granted. That is until cancer changed his whole outlook.

“I’m just grateful for everyday I get to play.”

Gonzalez dribbles the ball down the field in a Fall 2016 game. Photo by Larry Bartel, Hesston College Marketing & Communications

As Gonzalez looks back at his cancer journey the one thing that really sticks out to him is his support system. He recalls that right from the beginning his family really came together. Repeatedly he mentioned his gratefulness for the support. Above all, his greatest support was God, who he was able to rely on through it all.

“Even though there were sometimes where it was hard, especially at the beginning, not gonna lie there were a few times where I thought the worst, but…I kept that faith.”

Now that treatments and cancer are behind him (his last chemo treatment was a month ago, and his last radiation treatment was three weeks ago), he looks towards the future, especially his future here at Hesston College.

“[Cancer] really gave me a new perspective on life, and it makes me…appreciate everything a lot more.”

He’s not only looking forward to soccer, but Gonzalez also has the goal of getting back into his education and the community of Hesston.

“I’m really excited to be back [at Hesston]…This is like my second home when I come here.”

Hesston College played a big role in being there for him when he was going through treatments.

“Everybody here was really supportive and helpful, sending me emails and texts and everything along the way, cheering me on…They really helped me in coming back, so I’m really grateful for that. It was great, the support they showed when I was going through [cancer].”

Gonzalez is very grateful to everyone who encouraged him through his time of cancer, and he leaves them with this message:

“Don’t look at a situation with your eyes, but God’s eyes. Have that faith that you’re gonna get through it, and don’t take the things you have now for granted because it could all change.”

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