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Joe Roth: The Star Quarterback Who Played Despite Melanoma

Joe Roth: The Star Quarterback Who Played Despite Melanoma As the college football season approaches, it behooves us to recall Joe Roth (1955-1977), the University of California, Berkeley, star quarterback in the mid-1970s, and perhaps the most famous athlete to die of melanoma.1,2 His story demonstrates extreme personal courage and dramatically documents changes in melanoma diagnosis and management. In the spring of his senior year at Granite Hills High School in San Diego, Joe noticed a bleeding and enlarging mole in front of his left ear. A physician burned off the ¼-in (approximately 6-mm) tumor but did not obtain a pathologic diagnosis. When the tumor recurred 6 months later, a dermatologist performed a biopsy. The pathological diagnosis was melanoma, so the tumor was completely reexcised. Routine 6-month checkups were uneventful. Joe became a star quarterback at hometown Grossmont Junior College and transferred to the University of California in 1975, leading the Golden Bears to an 8-3 record and national ranking. In 1976, he was a Heisman candidate and showed why in the first 2 games as he passed for almost 700 yards against powerhouses University of Georgia and University of Oklahoma. His routine chest radiograph revealed a spot that was interpreted as an artifact. The rest of the season did not go well; Joe’s passing skills deteriorated, but more importantly he lost weight because of persistent nausea and vomiting. At Thanksgiving, he noticed several lumps on his chest. Soon thereafter, the diagnosis of metastatic melanoma was made, with liver and lung lesions, and Joe started chemotherapy. Aware that his outlook was grim, Joe still interrupted his chemotherapy for 2 weeks to play in postseason bowls in Hawaii and Japan. During this time, the story was leaked that he was fighting melanoma. After returning to Berkeley, he was determined to live out his final days a normal student. Shortly after turning in his final term paper, he was hospitalized for severe arterial emboli to his legs and died on February 19, 1977. Today, all physicians know that rapidly growing pigmented tumors should be excised, not cauterized, and always submitted for pathologic evaluation. With better options available today, Joe’s disease would be staged more carefully, his tumor would be molecularly characterized, and he would be considered for additional systemic therapies. We cannot say that he would have benefited, but many more patients do. Joe Roth’s story teaches us a lot about personal courage. It is simply impossible for those of us caring for severely ill patients with melanoma to imagine someone playing top-level sports while full of metastases. Toward the end of his life Joe said, “Dying is not so tough. For the last three years I’ve lived with the realization that the next day might be my last. I’m lucky to be here as long as I was, so don’t feel any pity... I’m nothing special. I’m Joe Roth, a student and a football player.”1 Photograph of Joe Roth. Courtesy Roth Family Archives. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Leonard J. Hoenig, MD, 601 N Flamingo Rd, No 201, Pembroke Pines, FL 33028 (gooddocljh@gmail.com). Additional Contributions: We thank Michael A. Friedman, MD, Special Projects, Emeritus Cancer Center Director, City of Hope, California, for his assistance. He was not reimbursed for his contributions. References 1. Joe Roth #12.www.joeroth12.com. Accessed January 28, 2014. 2. Roth LM. Joe: His Fight for Life. Jerome, ID: Self-published by L. M. Roth; 1984. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png JAMA Dermatology American Medical Association

Joe Roth: The Star Quarterback Who Played Despite Melanoma

Joe Roth: The Star Quarterback Who Played Despite Melanoma

Abstract

As the college football season approaches, it behooves us to recall Joe Roth (1955-1977), the University of California, Berkeley, star quarterback in the mid-1970s, and perhaps the most famous athlete to die of melanoma.1,2 His story demonstrates extreme personal courage and dramatically documents changes in melanoma diagnosis and management. In the spring of his senior year at Granite Hills High School in San Diego, Joe noticed a bleeding and enlarging mole in front of his left ear. A...
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Publisher
American Medical Association
Copyright
Copyright © 2014 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.
ISSN
2168-6068
eISSN
2168-6084
DOI
10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.310
pmid
25389792
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

As the college football season approaches, it behooves us to recall Joe Roth (1955-1977), the University of California, Berkeley, star quarterback in the mid-1970s, and perhaps the most famous athlete to die of melanoma.1,2 His story demonstrates extreme personal courage and dramatically documents changes in melanoma diagnosis and management. In the spring of his senior year at Granite Hills High School in San Diego, Joe noticed a bleeding and enlarging mole in front of his left ear. A physician burned off the ¼-in (approximately 6-mm) tumor but did not obtain a pathologic diagnosis. When the tumor recurred 6 months later, a dermatologist performed a biopsy. The pathological diagnosis was melanoma, so the tumor was completely reexcised. Routine 6-month checkups were uneventful. Joe became a star quarterback at hometown Grossmont Junior College and transferred to the University of California in 1975, leading the Golden Bears to an 8-3 record and national ranking. In 1976, he was a Heisman candidate and showed why in the first 2 games as he passed for almost 700 yards against powerhouses University of Georgia and University of Oklahoma. His routine chest radiograph revealed a spot that was interpreted as an artifact. The rest of the season did not go well; Joe’s passing skills deteriorated, but more importantly he lost weight because of persistent nausea and vomiting. At Thanksgiving, he noticed several lumps on his chest. Soon thereafter, the diagnosis of metastatic melanoma was made, with liver and lung lesions, and Joe started chemotherapy. Aware that his outlook was grim, Joe still interrupted his chemotherapy for 2 weeks to play in postseason bowls in Hawaii and Japan. During this time, the story was leaked that he was fighting melanoma. After returning to Berkeley, he was determined to live out his final days a normal student. Shortly after turning in his final term paper, he was hospitalized for severe arterial emboli to his legs and died on February 19, 1977. Today, all physicians know that rapidly growing pigmented tumors should be excised, not cauterized, and always submitted for pathologic evaluation. With better options available today, Joe’s disease would be staged more carefully, his tumor would be molecularly characterized, and he would be considered for additional systemic therapies. We cannot say that he would have benefited, but many more patients do. Joe Roth’s story teaches us a lot about personal courage. It is simply impossible for those of us caring for severely ill patients with melanoma to imagine someone playing top-level sports while full of metastases. Toward the end of his life Joe said, “Dying is not so tough. For the last three years I’ve lived with the realization that the next day might be my last. I’m lucky to be here as long as I was, so don’t feel any pity... I’m nothing special. I’m Joe Roth, a student and a football player.”1 Photograph of Joe Roth. Courtesy Roth Family Archives. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Leonard J. Hoenig, MD, 601 N Flamingo Rd, No 201, Pembroke Pines, FL 33028 (gooddocljh@gmail.com). Additional Contributions: We thank Michael A. Friedman, MD, Special Projects, Emeritus Cancer Center Director, City of Hope, California, for his assistance. He was not reimbursed for his contributions. References 1. Joe Roth #12.www.joeroth12.com. Accessed January 28, 2014. 2. Roth LM. Joe: His Fight for Life. Jerome, ID: Self-published by L. M. Roth; 1984.

Journal

JAMA DermatologyAmerican Medical Association

Published: Nov 1, 2014

References