Professional Footballer, Carl Ikeme Opens Up On His Battle With Cancer And How It Affected His Beautiful Family

Retired Super Eagles and Wolverhampton goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme‘s 1-year journey of beating cancer is an inspiring one. He’s always been a positive person, he said, but the diagnosis left him devastated.

Carl Onora Ikeme was diagnosed with acute Leukemia in July, 2017; and had to miss the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia.

In a chat with The Guardian, Ikeme, 32, who, in June, 2018 revealed he is in remission, revealed how he felt when he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia and his wife’s reaction after telling her he had cancer.

The dad-of-2 said his wife, Saba Ikeme was nine months pregnant at the time he was diagnosed with blood cancer and he had to inform her of the sad news even in her fragile state.

Saba has been a rock throughout and it is deeply moving listening to Ikeme recall the moment when he had to explain to her what the doctor had said.

”She was the first person I told. I was obviously upset, as you would be after that sort of news,” Ikeme said.

“I was in shock. I got back home and thought: ‘I need to tell Saba.’ I called her and I couldn’t get it out on the phone, but she knew something was up.

I got back and Saba came in and I told her the news. She was nine months pregnant at the time, due next week. I’ve never seen her cry the way she cried. It was tough.”

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Even though Ikeme knew something was not right during that first week of preseason, he never imagined it was anything serious.

Much of the close-season had been spent in the gym and Ikeme reported back on June 26, 2017 feeling good and looking forward to working under Nuno Espírito Santo, the club’s new manager. The first indication that there was any sort of problem came after some routine blood tests.

“My platelets had come back a little bit low, which the doc alerted me to straight away, but it still wasn’t a cause of concern. He just thought I might have had a viral infection,” Ikeme says.

“A couple of days later we had a tough session on the pitch and we did another 45-minute gym session afterwards. I came back and had a nosebleed. I wouldn’t normally tell the doctor about something like that but I did.

I complained about having a headache during training as well. So we repeated the blood test and it was still low. The doctor pulled me out of training and said we would go and see a specialist on the Monday and he could guide us as to what to do.

So I went to see Manos [Nikolousis, a consultant haematologist] and they did another blood test and checked my glands and still thought it could be a viral infection. Then a day or two later I had a phone call from the doctor, saying that I had cancer.”

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Ikeme also dreaded the thought of breaking the news to his parents.

“No one should have to tell their mum and dad that” – he tried to put his emotions to one side as quickly as possible.

There was only a brief moment when he felt sorry for himself, Ikeme said.

“The first day or two maybe, you do think: ‘Why me? I’m not a bad person.’ But then afterwards, I thought: ‘I’ve been overly blessed in so many ways that other people haven’t. I had a baby daughter, another one coming, I got to live my dream by playing football for a living, so why not me?’”

Ikeme moved to the Christie cancer hospital in Manchester, within a couple of weeks of being diagnosed and it was there, lying in a hospital bed, that he found out he had become a dad for the second time.

“On 16 July, 10 days after the announcement went out,” Ikeme says, smiling. “I was on FaceTime, it cut off and next thing I knew, 20 minutes later, Maya was born. It was crazy to think that you’re not there for the birth of your child. But I had a pretty good reason.”

Ikeme stayed in Manchester for 11 months as he underwent intense chemotherapy.

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Ikeme, who announced last month that he was retiring from football has decided to drop his gloves at 32, following advice from his doctor. He revealed this in a statement on his club’s- Wolverhampton Wanderers website.

“I spoke with the doctor and he suggested I should retire, because of the toll the treatment has taken on my body,” Ikeme told Wolves Website.

“He thinks it’s what is best for me and I can’t really risk trying to come back, my health is the priority.

“I want to be here for my children, family and friends. In the grand scheme of things with my life in danger, it’s the minimum price I have to pay to spend the rest of my time with my family.”

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Wolves said they were sad and happy at the news.

“Having been at the club since the age of 14, Carl is far more than just a player in our eyes – he is our brother and an important part of our family,” said Wolves executive chairman Jeff Shi.

“When Carl came to tell us (with) his news, yes there was sadness, but also great happiness to see him so healthy and hungry for the opportunities that lay ahead of him.

“Carl is strong, a fighter, something he has proven in his playing career and also during what has been a very challenging time for him, so I have no doubt he will be a success in whatever he does next.

“We wish Carl all the very best for the future, but remind him he will always remain a part of the Wolves family.”

Though Ikeme’s career as a professional footballer is over because of the toll that chemotherapy has taken on his body, the good news – the only news that matters, really – is that he is in complete remission and living at home again with his loved ones who were the inspiration for his recovery.

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“I was 31 when I was diagnosed – it’s young,” Ikeme says, puffing out his cheeks. “There’s a lot of life to live at that age. Obviously you want to be around to see your children grow up – and you don’t need any more motivation than that to pull through it.”

For the moment, however, Ikeme is happier to take things step by step and savour life’s simple but beautiful pleasures.

“It’s just enjoyable to wake up with your children every day,” he says. “Little things, like eating food at home, enjoying being around Saba, taking a walk to the park and just watching the kids run about – that’s all I need.”

Photo credit: The Guardian/ Instagram

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