'I was scared': Fit-again Koutroumbis reflects on cancer shock ahead of comeback

Newcastle Jets defender Johnny Koutroumbis was overwhelmed, nervous, confused and scared. The 20-year-old had just been told he had cancer.

“I was scared," Koutroumbis told www.a-league.com.au after getting the news "no one wants to hear".

“Once the big cancer word comes out, you don’t know what to think.

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“I remember sitting in the office of the specialist and he said the news and yeah, a lot of emotions were running through my mind.

“It was a bit of a blur. I was sort of, like, looking at him, listening to him speak but not understanding everything.

“It was sort of like a blank stare. There was so many things running through my mind like family, friends, football.”

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Koutroumbis, who was diagnosed with stage one thyroid cancer in October, is expected to make his return to Hyundai A-League action on Sunday evening when the Jets take on Melbourne City at AAMI Park.

It has been a swift recovery following surgery, eight days in hospital and rehab, a period Koutroumbis calls “short but long … if you know what I mean”.

The popular Jets man discovered a lump at the bottom of his neck on the day of a September friendly against Edgeworth Eagles, triggering a spell of ultrasounds, scans and a biopsy before the shock diagnosis.

Johnny Koutroumbis

“They didn’t really know what it was. I had further tests, there was a biopsy and a CT scan," he said.

“Eventually, they found out what it was and the specialist told me the news. I had my mother by my side.

“And after that, two weeks later, I was in hospital, ready for surgery.”

Any person in Koutroumbis’ situation could be forgiven for struggling to remain positive.

But he was determined to stay upbeat and surgery was “what they expected”, with the “very good prognosis” giving him confidence.

The support of his parents, his girlfriend, Mia, Newcastle physio Nathan Renwick and his teammates and friends kept Koutroumbis - who has made 35 Hyundai A-League appearance for the Jets, scoring two goals - in a good frame of mind.

"Obviously it's not a great time for her [Mia] either," he said.

"Since I came out of the hospital, she came over and supported me with whatever I needed. She'd be there and not only that, also by supporting me mentally as well.

"She's been really good and I appreciate everything she's done for me."

Things like watching his Newcastle teammates dedicate goal celebrations to him also put a smile on Koutroumbis' face and he even found time for regular reflection.

“It gave me some time to reflect on a few things [in hospital],” he said.

“I did think about taking things for granted. There’s so many other people who have different diseases and stuff like that that has happened to them or is happening to them now - and much worse than what I’ve had.

“So you’ve got to be appreciative with everything that you have.

“Not only the materialistic things but the joy that you have in life, like your family, your friends and making things, like, enjoyable for yourself.”

Johnny Koutroumbis

Techniques about resilience and gratitude, taught to the Jets in sessions with The Resilience Project founder Hugh van Cuylenburg, "definitely helped" Koutroumbis, who left hospital and returned to training the next day.

And he gradually built up to jogging before an appointment with a specialist gave him the all clear to return to full training.

“I was over the moon … it was a really good feeling,” he explained.

Being around his teammates only helped the situation, too, Koutroumbis saying his Jets teammates are “family to me”.

“We train together, we play together, we see each other mostly every day of each week and yeah, it's like a big family, really," he added.

"I know the boys will always be there to support me through no matter what."

And with a potential Hyundai A-League return just days away, Koutroumbis’ excitement is obvious.

“If the coach does decide to put me on, I guess it would be sort of a relief that I’ve overcome a small hurdle in my life,” he said.

“It’s not something you see every day in a person’s life, especially a footballer.

“It’d be a relief that I’ve just overcome it and just to step back onto the park after a few weeks out … [I’d be feeling] excitement, obviously, to be back playing again.”