FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Cancer is a silent killer. Often difficult to diagnose and truly insidious, the disease touches many. It leaves in its wake suffering, pain and often death. Cancer was the last thing on U.S. Army Reserve Sergeant Francisco Marti Gonzalez’s mind as he prepared to welcome a daughter with his wife Taisha in 2018.
We often think of cancer as a disease that afflicts those in middle age or the elderly. This was not the case for Marti, as he received a diagnosis as a 24-year-old sergeant. Pain in his lower back and groin area prompted him to get checked. The human resources noncommissioned officer from Utuado, Puerto Rico, was serving his first Active Guard Reserve program tour, in Georgia.
“After I was told I had a mass, I understood that could be testicular cancer. My first worry was if I’d live long enough to see my daughter born and grown up.” Follow up tests confirmed the diagnosis. It was testicular cancer. While Marti had answers, he also faced uncertainty. “I didn’t know what’s next in my life.”
Marti was immediately scheduled for surgery. Doctors removed his right testicle under general anesthesia in November 2018. He would start and complete multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
“Going through cancer treatment was the worst time of my life.”
Less than a year later, Marti was told that the cancer had spread to other parts of his body. “They told me I had testicular cancer that had went to the lymph nodes in my back – and my lungs.”
In May 2019 surgeons removed one nodule from his left lung.
This time – finally – good news. Tumor pathology showed that the cancer had died. It was confirmation that the cancer in his body was gone.
The road to recovery continued though. Marti had to train his lungs and used a machine he would breathe into as part of his resistance training. His lung had far less capacity than before.
“The psychological shock of losing almost 30 pounds and losing a bunch of strength really affected me. I wasn’t even half as strong as I was before starting treatment.” Aside from losing strength, Marti experienced a plethora of other adverse effects. “At some point my skin turned yellow.”
During this time, Marti welcomed his child – a daughter, Isabella. His family provided him with purpose and added to his will to survive. “My plan was to be a survivor and live on. To always do the right things in life. To be able to see my kids grow up. To be a father and a husband.”
And survive he has. Marti is now almost five years into remission. While that chapter of his life is behind him, his drive to excel and push himself physically remains paramount. “I scored a 579 on my last ACFT. I work on it just to prove to myself I can do it.”
Now assigned to the Military Intelligence Readiness Command at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Staff Sgt. Marti, was recently recognized by the region’s hometown NFL team – the Washington Commanders.
The Washington Commanders organization honored Marti and other cancer survivors with military ties during a home game October 5, 2023, at FedEx Field in North Englewood, Maryland.
More of a baseball fan, Marti had never been to an American Football game before. “When I saw the structure and size of the football stadium, I was impressed. You see it on TV and have an idea of the size, but it’s really something to see it in person.”
The team brought the invited cancer survivors out during half time. The large stadium screen displayed pictures of them during their cancer journeys as they walked down the field. Survivors were divided by types of cancer – lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, pediatric cancers, urological cancers, breast cancer, and others.
The large group of survivors moved in unison wearing colored shirts. Everyone was linked inextricably by their experiences with cancer. The pain, diagnosis, battles, and victories.
Elderly and middle-aged cancer survivors were well represented. What struck Marti the hardest though, were the young.
“There were some children that had survived cancer too. I cried seeing them. When urology told me I had testicular cancer I knew what I was facing – I was an adult. A little kid has to fight this terrible sickness without really knowing what’s going on. It’s really sad that they have this happen to them at such a young age. I saw their innocence.”
While those on the field tasted a sense of victory, the Washington Commanders would lose to the Chicago Bears 20 – 40.
Marti remembers that day fondly. “The game was really fun. There was such energy. The fans were really part of the game. In baseball its more quiet, this football game was a huge deal. It’s definitely the most energetic sports experience I’ve ever been part of.”
When asked what he wishes more knew about cancer, he said this - “Always pay attention to your body. Young males – examine yourself. This can affect you starting as young as 16.”
“If you ever find yourself in the situation where you’re diagnosed with cancer or any other serious disease, stay positive. I always prayed and asked God to allow me to have a second chance.” And a second chance he did receive. Marti continues to be there for Isabella, Taisha and son Daniel – born in 2022.