Walter Payton battled rare bile duct cancer caused by liver disease

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Remembering Walter Payton

  • NFL great Walter Payton died 22 years ago today from a rare form of bile duct cancer called cholangiocarcinoma, possibly caused by his liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis.
  • Payton was only 45 at the time and was hoping to get a liver transplant, but was no longer considered a viable host once diagnosed with cancer.
  • Although it can occur in younger people, bile duct cancer is usually found in people over the age of 70. This type of cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“Never die easily. “

That was the motto of the great Walter Payton of the NFL, who died 22 years ago today from a rare form of biliary cancer known as cholangiocarcinoma.

At just 45 years old at the time, Payton’s cancer was a complication of an equally rare form of liver disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) which causes inflammation, narrowing of the bile ducts and prevents bile to drain properly.

A liver transplant was the Hall of Fame’s only chance to survive PSC, but applicants are no longer viable hosts for a new organ once diagnosed with cancer.

Payton had a long career as a college footballer before being drafted by the Chicago Bears with the team’s first-round pick in the 1975 draft.

Considered by many to be the greatest running back to ever play, Payton would spend all 13 seasons of his career with the Bears, winning league MVP honors in 1977 and the Super Bowl in 1985.

His style of play was unique and aggressive, refusing to go out of bounds to avoid a hit, no matter what the dire straits were.

Walter Payton (above in 1981) was only 45 at the time of his death

Payton also specializes in inflicting as much pain on his tackles as he does on him, sometimes dragging two or three men onto the pitch with him to gain an extra yard.

In an era when professional athletic records only last a few years at best, he remains second in rushing yards of all time behind Emmitt Smith.

It was ten years after leaving football that Payton learned he had PSC.

His friends and former teammates opened up about Payton’s response to this news and his subsequent cancer diagnosis in the controversial 2011 biography. Sweetness: the enigmatic life of Walter Payton.

“I never heard him say, ‘Why me?’ Former Bears linebacker Mike Singletary noted. “I know I would have said, ‘Why me? Why me? There are other guys killing people, why me? I never heard Walter say that.

Bears offensive lineman Jimbo Covert echoed that sentiment.

“I was there with about 30 other guys. Walter took the time to go and see everyone personally, grab him and say, “What are you doing? – just to understand how you had been, ”recalls Covert. “Can you imagine how strong he must have been to do this?” He knew he was going to die.

Perhaps Payton put it best at his induction ceremony in 1993 when he told those gathered, “I’ll close by saying that life is short. It’s oh, so sweet.

What is bile duct cancer?

Bile duct cancer, also called cholangiocarcinoma, is a rare type of cancer that starts in the bile ducts, which are thin tubes that go from the liver to the small intestine. Bile is a liquid that helps digest fat from food. In the United States, approximately 8,000 people are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). This disease has a higher incidence in Southeast Asia, due to an infection that can lead to cancer of the bile ducts. Patients with PSC, like Payton, have an increased risk of cancer, including cholangiocarcinoma.

Although it can occur in younger people, bile duct cancer is usually found in people over the age of 70. This type of cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Side effects of this type of treatment can include nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and nerve pain. Fortunately, some of these side effects can now be reduced.

Stay positive despite cancer

Walter Payton had the love of life, choosing to take advantage of the time he had rather than bemoan the fact that his life would be cut short. Experts say SurvivorNet that having this kind of positive attitude while being able to find the joy of life can make a big difference in the fight against cancer.

In a previous interview, Dr Zuri Murrell said: “My patients who develop, even with stage 4 cancer, from the point that, about a month after diagnosis, I’m good enough to see who is going to be d ‘OK. Doesn’t that mean I’m good at saying cancer won’t develop?

Dr Murell said having a positive attitude can improve the prognosis in some cases. “But I’m good enough to say what kind of patient will still have that attitude and probably live the longest, even with a bad, bad disease.” And these are the patients who, they have gratitude in life.

Stay positive, it’s important

Learn more about SurvivorNet’s rigorous medical review process.


Chris Spargo is a senior reporter at SurvivorNet. Read more

Remembering Walter Payton

  • NFL great Walter Payton died 22 years ago today from a rare form of bile duct cancer called cholangiocarcinoma, possibly caused by his liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis.
  • Payton was only 45 at the time and was hoping to get a liver transplant, but was no longer considered a viable host once diagnosed with cancer.
  • Although it can occur in younger people, bile duct cancer is usually found in people over the age of 70. This type of cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“Never die easily. “

That was the motto of the great Walter Payton of the NFL, who died 22 years ago today from a rare form of biliary cancer known as cholangiocarcinoma.

Read more

At just 45 years old at the time, Payton’s cancer was a complication of an equally rare form of liver disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) which causes inflammation, narrowing of the bile ducts and prevents bile to drain properly.

A liver transplant was the Hall of Fame’s only chance to survive PSC, but applicants are no longer viable hosts for a new organ once diagnosed with cancer.

Payton had a long career as a college footballer before being drafted by the Chicago Bears with the team’s first-round pick in the 1975 draft.

Considered by many to be the greatest running back to ever play, Payton would spend all 13 seasons of his career with the Bears, winning league MVP honors in 1977 and the Super Bowl in 1985.

His style of play was unique and aggressive, refusing to go out of bounds to avoid a hit, no matter what the dire straits were.

walter payton
Walter Payton (above in 1981) was only 45 at the time of his death

Payton also specializes in inflicting as much pain on his tackles as he does on him, sometimes dragging two or three men onto the pitch with him to gain an extra yard.

In an era when professional athletic records only last a few years at best, he remains second in rushing yards of all time behind Emmitt Smith.

It was ten years after leaving football that Payton learned he had PSC.

His friends and former teammates opened up about Payton’s response to this news and his subsequent cancer diagnosis in the controversial 2011 biography. Sweetness: the enigmatic life of Walter Payton.

“I never heard him say, ‘Why me?’ Former Bears linebacker Mike Singletary noted. “I know I would have said, ‘Why me? Why me? There are other guys killing people, why me? I never heard Walter say that.

Bears offensive lineman Jimbo Covert echoed that sentiment.

“I was there with about 30 other guys. Walter took the time to go and see everyone personally, grab him and say, “What are you doing? – just to understand how you had been, ”recalls Covert. “Can you imagine how strong he must have been to do this?” He knew he was going to die.

Perhaps Payton put it best at his induction ceremony in 1993 when he told those gathered, “I’ll close by saying that life is short. It’s oh, so sweet.

What is bile duct cancer?

Bile duct cancer, also called cholangiocarcinoma, is a rare type of cancer that starts in the bile ducts, which are thin tubes that go from the liver to the small intestine. Bile is a liquid that helps digest fat from food. In the United States, approximately 8,000 people are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). This disease has a higher incidence in Southeast Asia, due to an infection that can lead to cancer of the bile ducts. Patients with PSC, like Payton, have an increased risk of cancer, including cholangiocarcinoma.

Although it can occur in younger people, bile duct cancer is usually found in people over the age of 70. This type of cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Side effects of this type of treatment can include nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and nerve pain. Fortunately, some of these side effects can now be reduced.

Stay positive despite cancer

Walter Payton had the love of life, choosing to take advantage of the time he had rather than bemoan the fact that his life would be cut short. Experts say SurvivorNet that having this kind of positive attitude while being able to find the joy of life can make a big difference in the fight against cancer.

In a previous interview, Dr Zuri Murrell said: “My patients who develop, even with stage 4 cancer, from the point that, about a month after diagnosis, I’m good enough to see who is going to be d ‘OK. Doesn’t that mean I’m good at saying cancer won’t develop?

Dr Murell said having a positive attitude can improve the prognosis in some cases. “But I’m good enough to say what kind of patient will still have that attitude and probably live the longest, even with a bad, bad disease.” And these are the patients who, they have gratitude in life.

Stay positive, it’s important

Learn more about SurvivorNet’s rigorous medical review process.


Chris Spargo is a senior reporter at SurvivorNet. Read more


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