- Nigeria and Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme was diagnosed of acute leukemia over a year ago
- The Nigerian received worldwide support from players, coaches and lovers of the game after the aliment was made public
- Ikeme underwent treatment for 13 months before revealing he was in “complete remission” on 23 June
Retired Super Eagles and Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme has taken time off after quitting the round leather game to recount how he was diagnosed with acute leukemia over a year ago.
In an interview with UK Guardian, the Nigeria international noted that despite the severity of all he has gone through, he remained positive in the course of getting medical solution to the aliment.
“I was 31 when I was diagnosed – it’s young,” Ikeme recalls as he gets set to tell his story. “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.”
Indeed, the goalie received loads of support from players and followers of the game and of course his club’s fans who usually displayed banner at every match last campaign alongside get-well messages from all over the globe, including the ‘goalkeepers’ union’.
The trio of Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas and Peter Schmeichel were among an all-star cast that paid tribute to the Nigerian, singing “one Carl Ikeme” on a three-minute-long video.
“They’re the three keepers that I really admire, so to hear them actually say your name and show their support, it was crazy,” Ikeme said with a smile.
To be honest Ikeme remains a popular figure at Wolves with 207 appearances since joining the club at 14, and how his positive view about life has come in handy over the past year.
After the sad news was broken to him that he had been diagnosed with leukemia, Ikeme took it lightly after posting a picture on Twitter from his hospital bed, saying: “Still happy, still grateful”.
And on transfer deadline day, six weeks later, he added the second with the caption: “Ikeme transfers from one room to another. Medical underway,” he shared in his post.
Indeed, Ikeme never lost courage in the fight against the dreaded aliment and will never forget the role family and friends played in getting him where he is today.
“I was properly grateful anyway before all this happened,” Ikeme says. “I’m grateful that I’ve got my family and friends, for what I’ve been able to achieve in football, for having a roof over my head. And even in that situation that I was in, there’s still someone who’s worse off. There are people who are diagnosed with cancer that is terminal. I was given a chance – and I’m grateful to have that,” he said, even as he was quick to recap the difficult paths and the role his wife Saba played after being diagnosed of acute leukemia.
“She was the first person I told. I was obviously upset, as you would be after that sort of news. 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 … Sorry, I’m getting emotional,” admits Ikeme, as he stopped briefly while telling the story. “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,” he noted.
Going forward, the goalkeeper never knew something was not right during that first week of pre-season, but never though it was really serious.
Even after returning for the new campaign on 26 June he was feeling good and looking forward to working under new boss Nuno Espírito Santo. However, the first indication came too soon after undergoing 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,” added Ikeme, whose next line of action was how to break the news to Saba and his parents.
“No one should have to tell their mum and dad that” – he made effort to keep out his emotions as soon as possible. “I had to go and see Manos in the evening and speak to him about the plan. As soon as I knew the plan, it was like: ‘My head’s on this now.’”
At this point, Ikeme says, he felt sorry for himself. “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?’”
Thereafter, Ikeme appealed to club heads to issue a statement immediately to enable him concentrate fully on his treatment.
That announcement left everyone across the football world in sad mood, so much that Petrov, the ex-Aston Villa and Celtic midfielder, who battled acute leukemia in 2012 offered to visit Ikeme within 1 day the news went public.
“I’d never met Stan before,” Ikeme says. “But he came to the hospital. He had the same sort of leukemia as me so he was letting me know what was in store. It was nice to have someone who had been through it, who could talk about it and give you guidance at certain points of the year. He could really relate. And when I got to Manchester, Joe Thompson [the Rochdale midfielder] was getting treated there, so he came in to see me. They both offered their support and I knew I could call them if I needed to ask them anything, so it was good to have that.”
Furthermore, after few weeks of being diagnosed, the Nigerian was transferred to the Christie cancer hospital in Manchester and while lying in on a hospital bed, news filtered in that 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 remained in Manchester for about 11 months going through intense chemotherapy. However, he managed to catch up with family during festivities like Christmas Day, and even surprised his Wolves club mates when he paid an unscheduled visit at their hotel in Birmingham, moments before they played at St Andrew’s.
“I was in between treatment, so I popped in and quickly said hello,” Ikeme says. “There was a bit of an infection risk. But I wanted to see everyone to let them know that they were still in my thoughts.”
Despite undergoing treatment, Ikeme was keen to know how things were fairing at Wolves as well as Nigeria’s Super Eagles where he was the No 1 shot-stopper, with the 2018 FIFA World Cup closing in.
“I’d love to have been part of the season going up but my journey was just different and that’s fine,” Ikeme says. “The World Cup was probably a bit more difficult to take. The World Cup, to me, is the pinnacle of football. No disrespect to Wolves, because I loved playing every minute for them, but the World Cup is a different stage – they’re the memories you have as a kid. So that was something that I’d knew I’d miss out on and never get the chance to do again,” he stressed.
Looking forward, Ikeme revealed he can’t wait to get better and leave of the hospital environment in time for his eldest daughter’s fifth birthday anniversary.
Interestingly, his wishes was granted and he was able to keep his appointment because on 23 June, Ikeme revealed that he was in “complete remission” and looking forward to getting back to normal life. “It still doesn’t feel like it’s over because I’ve still got treatment going on for two years,” Ikeme says. “But it was a relief to get that news and know that I could go back home.”
Currently, Ikeme is still trying to sort out his next line of action but revealed that many thought that include writing a book about his experiences in the past year, media work is another possibility and he has not ruled out accepting an offer to work at Eagles coach.
“I spoke to coach [Gernot] Rohr at Nigeria and he said I can come in as an assistant to him,” Ikeme explained, even as he prefers to take things step by step and enjoy the best life has to offer at the moment. “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,” Ikeme submitted.
Meanwhile, NAIJ.com previously had reported that Carl Ikeme made his first public appearance after announcing his cancer is in complete remission.
Nathan Judah revealed on his social media handle that the Wolverhampton Wanderers' shot-stopper helped in opening a brand new Haematology & Oncology Day unit at Solihull Hospital.
Last summer, the 32-year-old was diagnosed with acute leukemia after returning abnormal blood tests and he has not been able to play football since then.
Super Eagles: What Happened After The World Cup | Naij.com TV