Ask anyone in the Southern California boxing community to name the nicest people in the business and Genaro Hernandez makes the short list.
That’s one reason it was so painful to hear that the former super featherweight champion is battling Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of aggressive cancer that normally affects children and young adults.
As a result, Hernandez, 42, could lose his right eye. The cure rate is 70-80 percent, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.
Hernandez, a dominating super featherweight in the 1990s, noticed lumps on his neck and inside his nose early last month. Doctors determined that a tumor was eroding his eye socket and bone leading up to his brain.
He is scheduled to begin radiation and chemotherapy treatment on Dec. 2 and it will continue five days a week for six weeks. Surgery could follow.
The good news, Hernandez was told, is that none of his major organs has been affected.
“The possibility of losing my eye hit me real hard,” said Hernandez, who has a wife and two children. “That’s something no one expects to hear. And it’s still a possibility. … I have to be tough, though, for my wife. She’s losing weight, not sleeping well. It’s taking a toll.
“I just tell her, ‘Don’t worry. I’m going to get through this. You have to be as strong as I am.’ Of course I’m scared. I have two kids who need their dad. I’ll do whatever it takes to prevent this from defeating me.”
Rudy Hernandez, his older brother and trainer for most of his career, said he was stunned by the news initially but also decided it was important to be strong.
“At first, I had to take everything in,” said the elder Hernandez, whose brother broke the news to him over the phone. “Then, 20 minutes later, I called him back and said, “Hey, the doctors never said you have six months or a year or two years. So I felt there was a lot of hope. I still do.
“I told him that this is the cards he was dealt. He’s just gotta fight this, to move ahead.”
To make matters worse, Hernandez relies on his wife’s health insurance – she’s a sales representative for a cosmetics firm – and doesn’t believe it will cover all the costs his treatment.
And that’s only the latest example in a string of bad luck for him in recent years. He lost most of his savings as a result of bad investments in 1990s. His mother died in 2004 of an aneurism. Less than a year later, his home in Mission Viejo was damaged by a landslide. And, more recently, he had gone into broadcasting but has had trouble finding work.
“And now I have cancer,” he said. “What’s going on? I don’t know. You tell me. I’ll just do what I have to do to beat this.”
World Boxing Cares, a charitable organization affiliated with the World Boxing Council sanctioning body, has established a fund to help Hernandez. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to Genaro Hernandez, World Boxing Cares, 36 West 22nd St., New York, N.Y., 10010. The tax ID number is 26 2665978.
World Boxing Cares (www.worldboxingcares.com) organizes visits by boxers to children’s hospitals. Ironically, Hernandez was one of the first to visit a hospital in the program.
“That’s why we’re doing this,” said director Jill Diamond, referring to the fund.
Said Hernandez: “I remember, we [along with Erik Morales] went to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. I felt so bad for the kids, going through what they had to go through. I bought as many I could video games. It touched me that it meant so much to them to have someone visit them like that.
“I don’t know. Maybe I was meant to go through this too.”
Hernandez (38-2-1, with 17 knockouts) won the WBA super featherweight title in 1991 and successfully defended it eight times. He took the WBC version of the title from the great Azumah Nelson in 1997, successfully defended it three times and then lost it to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 1998. That was his last fight.