DENVER (AP) — Always so optimistic, Chad Bettis vowed to be ready for spring training even after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in November and undergoing surgery.
Now, he knows for sure: The Colorado Rockies right-hander will most certainly be ready to pitch next month.
On his drive home to Texas for the holidays, Bettis received an early present in the form of a telephone call from his doctors — his blood work showed no more signs of cancer. His early detection, followed by surgery on Nov. 29 to have a testicle removed, proved invaluable.
"Just awesome news," said the 27-year-old Bettis, who's spending the offseason in the Phoenix area. "I feel really good. Looks like we're going to be right on schedule for spring training."
His clean bill of health does come with the stipulation that he has to go through routine blood tests every three months or so, just to make sure the cancer doesn't return. That he can deal with, especially after all he's been through.
"When my doctor said testicular cancer, I didn't really hear 'testicular' as much as the 'cancer' part," said Bettis, a second-round draft pick by the Rockies in 2010. "And when you hear cancer, it's a blow. It's hard to wrap your mind around how that happened.
"But the more we talked about it, the more research I did, it wasn't so much worrying about baseball, it was that I needed to get this figured out now."
What led to his detection was not so much feeling sick but run down and exhausted soon after a season in which he went 14-8 with a 4.79 ERA. One day, he felt a lump about the size of a piece of rice. No reason for alarm, he told himself. The next day, it was still there.
So he contacted his doctor. An ultrasound and bloodwork revealed it was testicular cancer. A CT scan showed the cancer hadn't spread.
"I never would've thought I could have testicular cancer at 27, when I didn't feel any pain. That can't happen to me," Bettis said. "But it can, and you have to be aware of it and be in tune with your own health."
Soon after his surgery, he was cleared for some light rehab work. Then, it was all about getting back into shape — building up his shoulder and arm. Recently, he started throwing again.
Next week, he's going to be all systems go.
Bettis figures to be an integral part of the 2017 starting rotation under first-year Rockies manager Bud Black, joining a talented group that also includes Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Tyler Chatwood.
"Opening day — 100 percent, that's my mindset," said Bettis, whose wife, Kristina, is expecting a girl in late March. "Just keep moving forward. That's always the kind of person I've been. Let's just keep pushing forward."
He's amazed at all the support he's received over the last few months. From his teammates, who sent him warm wishes. From management, which stood by his side. And from the fans, who've sent him encouraging messages.
"It's so nice to know there are so many who have gone through this and battled through this stuff and they're 30 years down road and have families and (the cancer) is still nonexistent," Bettis said. "It's something very curable, but you have to get it detected early."
That's why he wants to start a foundation one day, something that leads other men to early detection for testicular cancer — just like him.
"Get the word out there, where guys are checking for this," he said. "We can catch it early."