The Bundesliga's remarkable cancer survivors


Stefan Lainer is the third recent cancer survivor to play in this season's Bundesliga following Sébastien Haller and Marco Richter, having featured for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Augsburg on Sunday.

The result may not have gone Gladbach's way - the Foals were beaten 2-1 after Jordan's opener was cancelled out by strikes from Phillip Tietz and Arne Engels - but the biggest victory belonged to the Austrian right-back.

"That was the most emotional game of my career," Lainer said after replacing Luca Netz for the last 20 minutes at the Borussia-Park. "For me personally, what counts is the moment of joy to be back on the pitch. The defeat's in the background, I'm looking to the future."

Watch: Lainer's emotional return

“The last weeks and months were a big challenge," Lainer had said previosuly. "I'm very thankful to have had so much support from my family, my friends, the club and the fans during this period. All this gave me strength. In particular, I would like to thank my wife and Dr. Sellmann, who were the most important sources of support during this time.”

The Austrian had received widespread support when he was diagnosed and he will have taken strength from the recoveries of his peers across the top-flight, including Haller who is back in action for Borussia Dortmund following his own diagnosis for testicular cancer in July 2022.

He was soon back doing what he does best after quickly scoring a hat-trick in a mid-season friendly against Basel and then grabbed his first Bundesliga goal for the club in the demolition of Freiburg on Matchday 19.

The Ivorian described returning to football as "the best feeling possible" in what was no doubt a cathartic moment for both the player and the club, and he made a point of thanking fans and well-wishers from across the world.

Watch: Haller's hat-trick against Basel

He has not shied away from sharing his remarkable story, from diagnosis through to treatment and recovery, and head coach Edin Terzić spoke of his pride at seeing how Haller coped with his recovery. "He was out for a very long time," said Terzić. "We're proud of him for the way he fought and we're all delighted that he's available again."

Equally remarkable is the fact that a further three players in Germany have trodden a similar path inside the last two years.

Watch: Haller reacts to comeback

Former Union Berlin defender Timo Baumgartl - now at Schalke in the second-tier - was the first, with a tumor discovered in early May 2022 as part of a routine check-up. Surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy followed.

"When you're given the cancer diagnosis you're forced to think about what it would be like if you're no longer around," the 27-year-old said.

Thankfully, the defender was able to fight was way back, and approximately five months later he returned to competitive action. Then head coach Urs Fischer put him in the starting line-up for the Matchday 7 fixture against Wolfsburg, which the capital club win 2-0 to pull provisionally to the top of the table.

Watch: Timo Baumgartl - my story

"This is exactly what I dreamed about the whole time during my chemotherapy: to come back into the starting line-up and to win," he said, having invited his friends, family and doctors to the match at the Alter Försterei.

It was a similar story for Mainz attacker Marco Richter, whose tumor was discovered in pre-season, while he was playing for Hertha Berlin. It was swiftly removed through surgery and just 55 days later he crowned his recovery with a goal to seal a 2-0 victory over Augsburg on Matchday 5.

Richter's former Hertha teammate Jean-Paul Boetius received the unwanted diagnosis of testicular cancer in September. He likewise required surgery to remove a tumor but as it was detected at such an early stage, no chemotherapy was required.

Watch: Richter wins Bundesliga Goal of the Year 2022

He has since left Hertha upon their relegation, having made his return agains former club Mainz on Matchday 7 last season.

Thankfully, the group's journeys have all had happy endings, culminating in Haller and Baumgartl swapping shirts after lining up against each other in Dortmund's 2-1 victory over Union on Matchday 27 last season. And now Lainer is the next to have completed his comback.

And if there is a silver lining to this darkest of clouds, then Richter has found it: raising awareness to get checked.

"You think you're indestructible until you get a shock diagnosis such as this," said the Mainz No.10. "We have a huge reach as footballers and it's such a small test. You go to the doctor and it feels it only takes three minutes."