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For judoka Jorge Fonseca, cancer was a detour, an Olympic medal the destination

Posted at 3:20 PM, Jul 29, 2021

Cancer doesn’t care who you are. One in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. It matters not if you are a banker, a farmworker or a world-class athlete.

Jorge Fonseca knows.

Before Fonseca could continue the Olympic journey that led to a bronze medal in judo in Tokyo on Thursday, Fonseca had to detour to an unexpected path that would take him on a different journey -- a cancer journey.

“I was diagnosed with cancer a year before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games,” the Portuguese judoka said in an interview with Inside Judo. “It was a really bad moment in my life. Before the diagnosis I was feeling very confident and well prepared, physically and mentally. And then I got the news.”

While examining Fonseca after a knee injury, doctors found a tumor on his left leg. It was malignant. Doctor’s diagnosed Fonseca with a form of lymphoma.

Lymphoma is a disease of the lymphatic system, a network of vessels, organs and nodes that filter out impurities and deliver immune cells throughout the body. It comes in dozens of types and sub-types, and may be treated with radiation therapy and/or a variety of drugs designed to target cancer cells. Fonseca, in an effort to make it to the Games in Rio asked doctors to accelerate his treatment of chemotherapy, which usually brings on difficult side effects, including extreme fatigue and nausea.

“Cancer is not an easy disease,” he said. “I went through such bad times.”

Fonseca made it to Rio and finished 17th in the men’s heavyweight division.

But he was back on track.

As a cancer survivor, Fonseca shocked the Judo community winning the heavyweight gold medal at the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo. He defended his title two years later in Budapest.

In June, Fonseca announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. Cancer patients are often more susceptible to infections such as coronaviruses or influenza, because their immune systems may be compromised as a side effect of their disease or treatment.

Still, Fonseca made it to the Tokyo Olympic Games, survived a dislocated thumb in his semifinal match, which he lost, but advanced to win bronze against Shady El Nahas of Canada. It was Portugal’s first medal of the games.

“I worked towards gold and got bronze,” Fonseca said in a Daily Mail article. “It didn't go as well as I wanted but, now I'm working on winning the gold in Paris [in the 2024 Olympics]. I will continue to work because I want to be the best.”

 "Everything that happened made me grow and made me into the person that I am today" He told Judo Inside. "These moments made me the athlete that I am today."