Borussia Dortmund striker Sébastien Haller – who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in July – returned to the field after a six-month absence in the yellow and black 4-3 win against Augusta. He was greeted by a roar from the audience and huge applause. Six months in which Haller underwent two surgeries and four cycles of chemotherapy, and finally got the green light from the doctors in January to be able to train with the first team and play again. To mark the occasion, Puma, the player’s technical sponsor, celebrated the attacker’s return with a personalized pair of shoes: on the outer back of the shoes a message to the defeated disease: «F**k Cancer»The attacker gave an interview to the French newspaper “L’Equipe” in which he exposed, told everything about the disease and the long recovery period. “I pushed away the fear – he said – that the state of mind would not have served to overcome it, nor to live with it”. The story: “I thought: if something has to be done, it will be done. If you have a little control you can have more anxiety, but… I had no choice but to trust the doctors, who have been wonderful to me. I had to stay mentally strong, tell myself that with this attitude I would conquer everything. As a professional player, I felt I had to take on this responsibility».
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Haller relives the movie, the nightmare he fell into from the moment he felt the first (and even trivial) symptoms. “It was May and I had just arrived in the national team. I had an upset stomach that lasted for a few days, then I got the flu. We were in South Africa, I remember wearing a down jacket, but I was very cold. I felt very weak.” Haller didn’t pay much attention to it at first, when he returned to Europe he went on vacation with his family and signed for Borussia. “Then a kind of pressure started in the abdomen, I thought I had a hernia – he added – and I consulted the physiotherapists. I tried everything, massage, acupuncture on the affected area, but it did not go away. They advised me to do an ultrasound to clarify the situation. Then saw they had a mass. We had an MRI the next morning to find out if the tumor was benign or malignant… I kept training though. And when the urologist arrived he forced me to undress and within ten seconds he said: “it’s a tumour”. That’s all, at that moment the world collapses on you».
The first procedure and the effects of chemotherapy
The attacker thus warned his wife, who was on holiday with the children. Three days later he was already in the operating room. “We had to speed up given the size of the metastases. This was the most concerning thing.” The operation, then the four rounds of chemotherapy: «The worst is actually after the chemo. Chemo broke my body from the inside, surgery from the outside. So I had to pick it up little by little. And after the chemo, even though you feel pretty good, you look really sick, you have sunken eyes, less hair, black lips… For the first few days, through the catheter in my throat, I had the voice of a boy who had a cold. It’s not often that a footballer gets cancer.”
Metastases and second surgery
Have you discovered a different world than football? «And that I could have done fine without football (laughs). But it’s interesting when you face certain things, because you learn, it’s rewarding, I’ll pass it on to my children, I’ll do more prevention… It’s strengthened my personality». Another intervention in November. “It was planned from the start because of the level of the tumor. In fact, the metastasis was very, very large. Basically, it was necessary to operate once, do chemotherapy to remove the metastases and then go back to the operating room». His life changed in those months. Haller, as he continues to tell the Equipe journalist, devoted himself to affection.
The family and the travels
“A lot happened, but I spent time with my family, it made me feel good, I saw the kids grow up, I cleared my head. I did other things like cycling, arranging sport fishing, a day out, paddle boarding, golf… We went to New York, London, Qatar for the World Cup. I liked doing things in my position that I couldn’t do.” You also went to the Ballon d’Or. “Yes, it was a great event, I got a lot of support, from the organizers, from the participants … In illness there are moments that bring us closer together, it feels good. And we open up. We are no longer the same, we no longer have the same story, the same way of seeing evidence. There is so much to experience, you will enjoy it even more if you experience it all.
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