Second-year D.C. United defender Chris Odoi-Atsem has been diagnosed with Stage Two Hodgkin’s lymphoma and will soon begin four months of chemotherapy at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, the club announced on Tuesday afternoon.
”I feel truly blessed to have caught this disease at any early stage and have a medical team that is confident that I will make a full recovery,” Odoi-Atsem said in a statement. "I want to use my situation to raise awareness and help others in similar situations who are going through their own individual battles. This is only temporary, God will see me through and I will be back to where I'm supposed to be — on the soccer field.”
The No. 12 overall selection of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, the 23-year-old has been limited due to 10 league games due to a number of injuries, including bone spurs in his left ankle, compartment syndrome in both calves and, most recently, what the club considered fatigue. His only appearance this season was a 12-minute stint off the bench against Columbus Crew SC on March 24.
But when Odoi-Atsem woke up about six weeks ago with tightness in his chest and had shortness of breath, his mother Janet, a breast cancer survivor, drove him to an urgent care center where it was revealed he had a 7.5-centimeter mass growing in his chest, according to the Washington Post.
After a pair of biopsies, Odoi-Atsem learned the diagnosis, but was also told the cancer has not spread and doctors expect him to make a full recovery. The Mitchelville, MD native has been dealing with fatigue since the preseason. He underwent surgery in May for compartment syndrome that first appeared in 2017 and flared up again early this season.
Fatigue continued through and a series of tests didn’t provide any clues. Finally, an MRI and X-rays following the trip to urgent care revealed the cancerous mass.
“There was always something hampering him from being at his best and being an option for us,” Ben Olsen told the Washington Post. “It can get pretty callous in the soccer world when guys are constantly injured. At some point, you question whether he is going to be able to play pro soccer. When we heard about the cancer, it started to make sense real quick.”
Odoi-Atsem is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Minnesota United FC goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who had stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a teenager, but was able to make a full recovery and enjoy a professional soccer career.
“As a club, we want to express our unwavering support for Chris as he goes through treatment to address the Hodgkin's lymphoma,” D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper said. “He is physically and mentally strong so we know that he is well-equipped to overcome this. The experienced medical staff at MedStar were able to discover it at an early stage and are optimistic that this is highly treatable. We are going to be behind Chris every step of the way in this process.”