Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

After Overcoming Ovarian Cancer, Linda Caicedo Moves Forward at the Women’s World Cup

Colombian forward Linda Caicedo is 18 and already defying odds. This year alone, the star from Candelaria – a small town 17 miles east of Colombia’s third-largest city, Cali – has played in the U-17 Women’s World Cup (where she scored four goals in six games) and the U-20 Women’s World Cup (scoring two goals in four games). Now, she’s headed to the FIFA Women’s World Cup as the youngest player on Colombia’s national team. And she’s poised to be the first woman to play in all three of those Cups within a year. Her age aside, Caicedo’s professional achievements seem even less likely considering the personal obstacles she has faced.

It was February 2020. Caicedo, then 15 years old, was experiencing sharp stomach pain that doctors initially thought was gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining. But treatments weren’t working, and Caicedo’s stomach started to grow, so she went back for exams that yielded the unthinkable for a teenager: ovarian cancer.

“The truth is that I was very young and maybe I didn’t quite understand what was happening to me,” Caicedo says in the latest episode of NBC Sports’ women’s soccer podcast, My New Favorite Futbolista. One thing Caicedo did understand? That she’d have to stop playing soccer, at least for the time being.

“Every time we would take Linda to the hospital, she would cry, and she would ask the doctors to please tell her the truth, if she would be able to play fútbol again,” says Caicedo’s mom, Herlinda Alegría. “That’s all she wanted to know.”

Two weeks after the diagnosis, in March 2020, Caicedo had surgery to remove a tumor. She immediately started six months of chemotherapy, and days after finishing treatment – once she was declared cancer-free – she was back at training, determined to play again. “I was at Deportivo Cali, and they all welcomed me in the best way,” Caicedo says, referring to the sports club based in Cali.

Caicedo’s father, Mauro Caicedo, says, “It took her no time to return to her level. Little by little she started to join the group.” The club doctors made extra efforts to keep Caicedo healthy. “They were super aware if I needed anything,” Caicedo says. “In that sense, I was very fortunate, and the support they gave me was impressive.”

Caicedo was still battling the side effects of chemotherapy, particularly hair loss, and decided to play with a wig. And although she bounced back quickly physically, the mental and emotional obstacles were more difficult to overcome. “Recovery was something that took a long time,” Caicedo says. “To readjust, to let go of the fear that maybe your teammates are already at a pace, and you have to train more to be able to reach them.” She says getting herself fully back into the game took about a year.

Linda Caicedo player of match

Linda Caicedo of Colombia poses for a photo with her VISA Player of the Match award after Colombia’s group stage match against South Korea on July 25, 2023. (Photo by Matt King - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Matt King - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Caicedo’s recovery process was made even more intense because of the protests that gripped Colombia in April 2021. Demonstrators flooded the streets to fight against corruption, tax increases, and changes to health care, and the throngs of people – who burned cars in protest – made it nearly impossible for Caicedo to get to her routine check-ups. Caicedo’s family ended up hiring smugglers to help her get from her home to the medical clinic in Cali. Amidst all of the internal and external obstacles, Caicedo made it to her final check-up in November 2021.

Caicedo’s first match back after the final check-up was something of a test. She believed in herself, and convinced her team to have faith, too. Her coach said she could play for ten minutes, but Caicedo – wearing a wig and a catheter – fought to stay in the match for forty.

In the months since coming back, the teenage phenom has only gotten stronger. Her game is taking her to the Women’s World Cup, and her passion is fueling another side of her story: activism. Caicedo works as an ambassador for the non-profit Fundación Mi Sangre, which provides young people with psychological assistance and aims to reduce violence in Colombia. In February 2023, the U.S. government acknowledged her efforts to make Colombia better for the next generation by naming her the first-ever Ambassador of Resilient Youth.

Both off the pitch and on, Caicedo is working hard for progress and inspiring others as she does. She says, “Little by little I am moving forward.”

My New Favorite Futbolista, hosted by World Cup champion Meghan Klingenberg and Mexico national team star Janelly Farías, will introduce you to more inspiring soccer players leading up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Check out the podcast feed or watch the video version on the NBC Sports YouTube page. For more on Sophia Smith and other superstars expected to feature in World Cup action, stay tuned to On Her Turf all summer long.

2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup schedule, start time, dates, how to watch live

  • When: July 20 - August 20
  • Group stage kick-off times: 12:30am, 1am, 1:30am, 3am, 3:30am, 4am, 6am, 7am, 8am, 8:30am, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm (all ET)
  • Location: Australia and New Zealand
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)