Eric Abidal: Despite the disease, there is always hope
Liver Health In 2011, French footballer Eric Abidal learnt he had cancer of the liver. Despite the disease, he carried on with his career, sending out a real message of hope for all those people who are battling cancer.
How did you find out you had the disease?
Eric Abidal – “I was really fit and didn’t appear to have any health worries but during a routine check-up at my then club, the doctor noticed something on the images of my liver and sent me for further tests. It turned out to be a tumour on my liver. My first reaction was to ask the surgeon who was there that day to remove the tumour as quickly as possible. I underwent surgery just two days later. The doctor removed part of my liver.”
What sort of psychological support have you had?
E.A. – “The support of my family helped a lot. And I’ve done everything I can to adopt a positive attitude. I was the one who was ill but it was me who was comforting those around me, including my parents. I was able to keep things hidden so as not to worry them. As a result, they came through it well and never lost their sense of humour. I had my wife with me every day. She was strong, which was also a great help, as was the support I got from my three daughters. All this helped me keep my head high throughout the journey.”
Despite the disease, you decided to carry on with your football career…
E.A. – “Football helped me forget the disease. I think that sport in general is a good way to forget your troubles and the doctors tended to confirm this. I decided to take each day as it came, while keeping myself fit. My return to football was difficult at first, though, because I’d had a banana-shaped incision right through half of my abdomen… abdominal exercises were particularly painful. It took me two and a half months to recover. I then played in matches with my Barcelona team and I even managed to play in the Champions League final. Although the acute pain had gone, I still hadn’t returned to top form.”
Last December you decided to retire. Was this because of your illness?
E.A. – “No, definitely not! I had a liver transplant in 2012 because there was a risk that the disease might return but I’m fully fit now; I no longer have any physical or medical problems. My decision to retire was to do with the mind rather than the body: a professional sportsman should know when it’s time to stop. If you’ve lost that hunger to win, then that’s a sign.”
What does the future hold for you?
E.A. – “I’ve just set up the Eric Abidal Foundation in Spain and that’s going to be my first priority. We already have agreements in place with hospitals in Spain and Catalonia and are going to approach hospitals in France, in Martinique (my motherland) and other places which are going through difficult times, in Africa and India for example. The foundation is an international undertaking with several objectives: to help hospitals and research; to use sport and other activities to help children with cancer forget their illness; and to offer psychological support to the families at a painful time. Because I’ve been there, I sort of know what to say to them to help them get through the ordeal as best they can. I’m hoping to really get things moving early April.”
And in terms of sport?
E.A. – “I’ve been offered the position of Director of the FC Barcelona football schools worldwide. Olympiakos has also asked me to head up the team in charge of its sponsorship, marketing, training camp preparation, etc. I also have a few other offers in the pipeline. I’m in no rush, though. I dedicated myself to my career for 15 years and now a new life awaits, a new chapter is about to begin. It’s up to me to take my time to ensure it gets off to the best possible start. What I like about clubs like FC Barcelona and Olympiakos is their involvement with Unicef.”
Do you have a message for others?
E.A. – “Despite the disease, there is always hope! Place your trust in the support of your friends and family and also in medicine. Take every chance there is, even if the odds are slim!”
The support of my family helped a lot. And I’ve done everything I can to adopt a positive attitude. Football helped me forget the disease
Eric Abidal Bio
Eric Abidal was born on 11 September 1979 in Saint-Genis-Laval near Lyon. During his career, the French international footballer of Martinique origin progressed to the position of defender. From 2000 on, he played for a number of prestigious clubs: AS Monaco (2000-2002), Lille (2002-2004), Olympique lyonnais (2004-2007), FC Barcelona (2007-2013), AS Monaco again (2013-2014) and finally Olympiakos (June to December 2014). He got his first cap for the French international team in 2004. In March 2011, he was diagnosed with a tumour on his liver and promptly underwent surgery. Barely two months later he returned to his club, pursued his career and won the Spanish league championship with his team. In March 2012, he underwent a liver transplant because his liver disease had worsened. In August 2014, he announced he was leaving the French team. Last December he announced his retirement from professional football, but not because of his illness.
Liver Cancer: 600 new cases each year
Liver cancer is a malignant tumour which develops in the liver cells. The term “malignant” means that the tumour may spread to other parts of the body. When the cancer starts in the liver cells, it is called primary liver cancer. When it originates elsewhere in the body, it is referred to as metastatic liver cancer. Some 600 new cases are diagnosed each year in Belgium. This type of cancer is slightly more common in men than in women and most often occurs after the age of 55. The causes of liver cancer are unknown but some risk factors have been identified, primarily smoking and cirrhosis of the liver. It can remain hidden for quite some time before any signs of abnormality occur. The disease has many symptoms, including ascites (accumulation of fluid in the region of the liver and intestines), jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes), fever, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.