He had a tumor the size of a tennis ball.
At 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, Parkview’s Pete Gonzales might be the smallest nose guard in the Ozark Conference, or maybe even in Missouri. Gonzales is also arguably among the toughest. Battling his way into Parkview’s starting lineup was easy compared to a fight with cancer.
Gonzales played freshman football at Parkview and then moved to Colorado. He noticed something wrong with the right side of his ribcage, and his friends, fearful for Gonzales, talked him into getting examined.
“I had a bump on the side of my rib, it was the size of a tennis ball. I didn’t know what it was, I just thought it was a strained muscle or a pulled muscle that swelled up,” Gonzales said. “I had my mom take me to the hospital, they told me that it was cancer. I was scared.”
Gonzales recalls the exact moment he received his cancer diagnosis.
“My mom started crying, she couldn’t believe that was true. My reaction, I was just like — I didn’t even know what to say,” Gonzales said.
The tumor on Gonzales’ ribs was caused by a form of sarcoma, a cancer that causes tumors to grow on connective tissue of the body. Soft tissue sarcoma is rare and according to the Sarcoma Alliance, comprises about one percent of all cancer cases diagnosed.
Gonzales underwent six months of chemotherapy and then surgery on the right side of his ribcage for treatment. Chemotherapy stopped Gonzales from playing football as a junior in Colorado. In fact, the treatment stopped him from doing much of anything.
“It messed me up,” Gonzales said of chemotherapy treatment. “I still tried to do what I used to like play basketball and work out and stuff, but I couldn’t do it like I used to. I was getting weaker and weaker.”
Gonzales finished treatment and returned to school. Prior to his senior year, he moved back to Springfield, back to Parkview and back to football.
“When he came back, I was surprised to see him back — happy to see him, obviously,” Parkview football coach Anthony Hays said.
Hays was happy for Gonzales to return because of the energy he brings to the Vikings.
“He’s a soft-spoken kid, but on the football field, you wouldn’t see that. You’d see a guy that’s like a little firecracker out there getting off the ball,” Hays said.
Hays asked Gonzales to serve as the keynote speaker at a Vikings team meeting on Monday after practice.
Parkview (2-7) travels to Willard (3-6) in the first round of the Class 5 district playoffs Friday at 7 p.m. The Vikings will try to snap out of a five-game losing streak to advance. Hays hoped Gonzales’ sharing of his cancer treatment story could help the Parkview players keep football in perspective to the potential life lessons in sports.
“These kids right now are going through some adversity with losing a football game, but (Gonzales) has been through some real life adversity with overcoming cancer, having surgery and going through chemo,” Hays said.
Gonzales started the season as a defensive back. Due to an abundance of talent in the secondary, Parkview’s coaches tried to move Gonzales to outside linebacker. When the Vikings needed a nose guard, Gonzales was willing to try.
“Kids in general get it in their head that they’re only going to do this one thing, and they’re not open to other ideas. (Gonzales) found himself starting for us, when just three months ago he was a third-string DB. It’s just a testament to perseverance, resilience, and just finding any way you can to help the team,” Hays said.
Given his backstory and willingness to change positions, Gonzales inspired his coaches along with his teammates.
“He has a lot of heart and a lot of fight. He’s just an encouragement, I think, to all of the coaches. Even with his size and his adversity off the field, he doesn’t hold back at all. He gives it everything he has,” Hays said.
Gonzales doesn’t care where he plays, or that he has to routinely collide with players 100 pounds or more heavier than he is. He’s happy to be out of a hospital bed and back on a football field.
“It hasn’t been the same. I’ve actually gotten better than I was before. I think what I went through made me stronger,” Gonzales said.
Sarcoma facts (according to the National Cancer Institute and the Sarcoma Alliance)
- About 14,000 sarcoma cases are diagnosed each year in the United States.
- Approximately 3,900 Americans per year die of sarcoma.
- About 1,600 U.S. children are diagnosed with some form of sarcoma per year
- Sarcoma makes up approximately 15 percent of all pediatric cancer cases