Timo Baumgartl has started training again after his testicular cancer operation. A conversation about dark thoughts, strong feelings and unusual jokes.
Wednesday was a good day for Timo Baumgartl. The Union Berlin defender was able to train again for the first time after his cancer operation. The 26-year-old had recently expressed great confidence in returning to professional sport after completing all the necessary chemotherapy cycles. In mid-May, the Böblingen-born professional underwent cancer surgery for a tumor in his testicles. The testicle was removed. SWR Sport met Baumgartl in Berlin for an interview:
SWR Sport: How did you experience the day of your preventive examination?
Timo Baumgartl: It was a day off. My girlfriend and I had arranged to meet for dinner after the doctor’s visit. I called her and she immediately knew something was wrong. I said, ‘There’s something. You need to double check that.’ So it wasn’t clear what it is. But you’re already thinking. A hug is good. A happy dog that comes to you does you good. The next day, when we got the cancer diagnosis, it felt good to cry together. The dog will then calm down and just lay down and cuddle you. These are moments when it is important to show feelings.
Other people would have a problem with that…
I have no problem showing emotions in front of my girlfriend or my friends. I also had to learn that first, because in our profession one becomes a bit dulled in this regard. There were days when we cried together for several hours.
Would you have made it all without your partner?
no Julia was there in the good moments and in the bad. She was always the rock in the surf. She brought me down to earth when I thought I was the greatest. And now she has comforted me. That welds together. We’ve been together for almost ten years now. It’s a school love. She was 15, I was 16. She walked with me all the way. She’s not a classic “gamer’s wife” and doesn’t want to be either. She is an independent person and not just Timo Baumgartl’s girlfriend.
“I wanted to encourage others”
Have there been happy moments in the past few weeks?
Yes, there were days when we said we wouldn’t let it affect us too much. We noticed that you can approach it with humor. We even joked about it.
Testicular Cancer Jokes!?
Yes, you have the whole range of single testicles at your disposal. You can no longer say: ‘You’re getting on my balls.’ That doesn’t work for me anymore. It’s now: ‘You’re pissing me off.’ I allow my friends to make such jokes.
How difficult was it for you to make your illness public?
I let that sink in for a few days. We discussed this with the family. But then it became clear to me relatively quickly that I wanted to deal with it openly. The medical check-up finally opened up an opportunity for me. I think that as a public figure I have a role model function. I wanted to encourage others to take preventive care. Many have written to me that they are ashamed that they have scars that they want to cover up in the outdoor pool. But they also wrote that they were proud to have won this fight. It touched me that I was able to inspire others and give them courage.
Our healthcare system only recommends screening of the prostate and external genitals for men over the age of 45. That would have been too late for you…
The system should be changed. From 45 is much too late. Young men between the ages of 14 and 40 have the highest risk of testicular cancer. Women go to the gynecologist regularly after their first period.
Conversations with Haller and Richter
You’re not the only professional soccer player recently diagnosed with testicular cancer. The disease was also found in Sébastian Haller (Bor. Dortmund) and Marco Richter (Hertha BSC). Do you have contact with them?
I have written with both. I know Marco from the national team and am in contact with him anyway. I talked a lot with Sébastian about what you can do during chemo to make sure it goes well. It was also good for me to write with people who experienced it. There courage is awarded. It’s particularly difficult for Sébastian. He’s new to the club, abroad, doesn’t know many people. I just want to support him. I did the same with Marco. We’ve already made an appointment for Saturday, on the fringes of the Union vs. Hertha game. I am looking forward.
After your diagnosis, did you think about dying and death?
If you get the word Cancer hear, you inevitably have to deal with it. I’m 26, a competitive athlete and have never had any physical issues or symptoms. I felt unassailable. And then a diagnosis like that really gnaws at your self-confidence. Dark thoughts ran through my head. What if I’m gone? You still wanted children. You leave girlfriend, family, friends and dog behind. That was hard. But I’ve heard that testicular cancer is almost 100 percent curable in almost all stages. My doctor was also quite optimistic. We’ve counted down a tally to 64 days – and now I’m ready to move on to aftercare.
“We plan to have children”
What consequences does all this have for your family planning?
You usually go the safe way. Sperm are frozen in a so-called cryobank. (As a result, couples can still have children later even if the therapy has impaired the fertility of a partner, dR). This is an option that we have also considered. But usually one testicle is enough. We plan to have children. This is our common wish and should not be a problem.
After your return to training, are you already thinking about your next Bundesliga appearance?
I prefer to go step by step. But on difficult days, when you’re in the hospital and the chemo is running in, I imagined playing Bundesliga again. But ultimately it is important to have an everyday life again. My girlfriend and I look forward to doing the normal things, vacuuming, tidying up or carrying water boxes. I’m just glad I can do these things.
How have these experiences changed you?
I often think: What have I actually been upset about in the last 26 years? Now I’m learning to appreciate that I still have time. I’m more relaxed about things. When I’ve done chemotherapy, I don’t have to worry anymore if I make a mistake in a game.
Do you have any advice for people diagnosed with testicular cancer?
My advice is: be open about it. Marco Richter did it, as did Sébastian and me. I think it makes you stronger. It’s something to be proud of no matter what the scars. Openness helps with healing and is also good for the people around you.