Former Liverpool defender Jose Enrique opens up on his traumatic battle with cancer  

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Every Liverpool fan will have their own tales of their journey to Saturday’s Champions League final but none will be more dramatic than Jose Enrique’s.

Sat in his Valencia home, with his Pomeranian dog Simba bouncing playfully around the sofa, the former Liverpool tells the story.

‘The doctor sat down with me and said: ‘Don’t be frightened by the word I am going to say, because everyone thinks, when you say it, it means that you have it all over your body and you are going to die’,’ he says, recalling events last May when he went to hospital after a severe headache that had him seeing double.

Jose Enrique poses in a Liverpool shirt as he speaks about overcoming a rare form of cancer

Jose Enrique poses in a Liverpool shirt as he speaks about overcoming a rare form of cancer

The former left-back required brain surgery and Proton therapy but is now clear of the cancer

The former left-back required brain surgery and Proton therapy but is now clear of the cancer

Enrique undergoing Proton therapy in Paris to remove any remaining cancerous cells

Enrique undergoing Proton therapy in Paris to remove any remaining cancerous cells

The word he’s referring to is still one he prefers not to utter, least not in full. ‘Don’t worry, it’s canc…’ he goes on recalling the doctor’s words but stopping short before the final syllable. 

‘It’s malignant but localised and unlikely to spread. Stay calm, you will have an operation’.’

It was a one-in-a-million rare cancer that needed brain surgery and after consulting medical friends in football he located a top neurosurgeon, Dr Juan Antonio Simal, in Valencia, and a month later he was having the eight-hour operation with the tumour reached via the nasal passages.

‘When they take it out you don’t know if you are going to be the same as before. That frightened me. I’m there aged 32 years and pfffff! What if I end up without a nose or an eye?’

He says he never would have coped without his Bolton-born partner Amy. ‘She helped me so much because she was so positive.’ 

The battle wasn’t over after surgery, either. He needed the extremely accurate but highly expensive Proton Therapy in Paris to eliminate the possibility of any lingering cancerous cells. He has since been given the all-clear.

Enrique wearing the captain's armband for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool before he left the club

Enrique wearing the captain’s armband for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool before he left the club

The Spanish left-back played 99 times for Liverpool during his five seasons with the club

The Spanish left-back played 99 times for Liverpool during his five seasons with the club

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He describes being masked and strapped to the bed so it’s impossible for the head to move as the €130million (£115m) machine directs its radiotherapy beam.

‘It’s an oppressive stifling sensation. And it’s a big machine. I would try not to look at it as I entered the room. You don’t feel anything at the time but they’re radiating your head after all and there are side-effects – my right ear blocked and I couldn’t hear properly for a couple of months.’

It was while in Paris having that radiation treatment that he visited Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool players ahead of their group game with PSG last November. 

‘I was there for the training session and I went to see them in the hotel,’ he recalls. ‘They were great with me, Kenny Dalglish, Klopp and even players I don’t know, [Virgil] Van Dijk and [Andy] Robertson, came to say hello.’

He also watched the semi-final first-leg against Barcelona up in the gods of the Camp Nou with the rest of the Liverpool fans. 

And to complete the journey he will be at the Metropolitano stadium to see if they can lift the trophy this weekend.

He will then fly to Hong Kong for a Liverpool Legends match – his first game since he was told he was ill. Asked if he’ll be allowed to head the ball in next month’s Legends game he laughs, his sense of humour intact. 

‘The doctor has told me it’s okay but if I can avoid it I will. I avoided it when possible as a player because I was terrible at heading so I’m not going to change now.’ 

Enrique with his wife Amy, who has remained rock solid during his cancer treatment

Enrique with his wife Amy, who has remained rock solid during his cancer treatment

He is looking forward to watching Liverpool play Tottenham in the Champions League final

He is looking forward to watching Liverpool play Tottenham in the Champions League final

There is a strong bond with Liverpool. ‘At [previous club] Newcastle they also treat me really well, but by the time I went to Liverpool I spoke perfect English and so you connect better. You’re not just there in your community of Spaniards or Brazilians.’

He’s still in touch with people who work at the club and there is huge respect for Klopp who made sure he captained the side before he left.

‘He was going to give me the armband in a cup game against Exeter but he told me: ‘Listen, would you mind if I gave it to [Christian] Benteke because he’s struggling and it will give him confidence.’ 

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‘I said: ‘Fine’ even though I was thinking it might be the only chance I’d ever get!’

The game ended in a draw and he wore the armband in the replay. ‘I didn’t play much under him but I can only say good things,’ he adds.

‘He’s honest with you. When I didn’t play I asked him why and he said: ‘Look, Jose, I don’t think you’re 100 per cent’. I prefer that to a manager saying: ‘You’ll get a chance later on’.

‘What you see is what you get and he has a way of making players play his way – with that rock and roll football. He is very clear what he wants and that extends to signings. He wants a centre-back and it’s Van Dijk and no one else.’

Enrique and his Pomeranian dog Simba pictured at his home in Valencia, the city of his birth

Enrique and his Pomeranian dog Simba pictured at his home in Valencia, the city of his birth

The £115m radiotherapy machine in Paris that helped remove the cancerous cells in his brain

The £115m radiotherapy machine in Paris that helped remove the cancerous cells in his brain

Enrique was candid about the side-effects of his radiotherapy treatment on social media

Enrique was candid about the side-effects of his radiotherapy treatment on social media

He watched the second leg comeback at home. ‘I thought it was impossible but at 2-0 I said: ‘They are eating them alive’. And the Liverpool fans were something else.’

He had watched the first leg with the fans, courtesy of Liverpool full-back Alberto Moreno organising the tickets. Never again!

‘The fans treated me so well,’ he says. ‘They weren’t all over me, I guess partly because of what had happened, but they sang to me, shook my hand and asked how I was.’

It made up for the vantage point. ‘You get a lovely view of the city from up there,’ he says, ‘but the pitch is a long way away.

‘Alberto doesn’t speak any English and I said to him: ‘that’s your problem, you haven’t got a bloody clue what anyone’s saying!’ It was great, but put me somewhere I can see it properly!’

Still laughing he jokes: ‘I’ve not asked Alberto to sort out our final tickets.’

He has to get up twice during the hour-long chat to spit. He’s unnecessarily apologetic about it – a build-up of phlegm is a result of the surgery. 

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Tear-duct damage also means he can’t cry and he carries drops for when his eyes get dry. 

Diving holidays are also out now as he can’t swim under water because of the pressure it would create inside his head.

There are psychological scars too. He is keen to help the Brain Tumour Charity at some point but tapping his forehead he adds: ‘First I want to be 100 per cent.’ 

Enrique will be wearing his Liverpool colours with pride in Madrid on Saturday night

Enrique will be wearing his Liverpool colours with pride in Madrid on Saturday night

The surgery involved entering the brain through the nasal passages to remove the tumour

The surgery involved entering the brain through the nasal passages to remove the tumour

He’s happy to discuss ongoing psychological help. So what’s the secret of the never-ending cycle of anxious thoughts that follow such a massive health scare? ‘When I work that out I will let you know,’ he laughs.

‘The psychologist gives me pointers, such as if you are constantly thinking about things related to your body then think about the breeze or the birds.’ 

He also has a sense of how lucky he feels. Spain’s national health service paid for the Proton Therapy sessions and he turned down extra assistance that would have covered his living costs in Paris.

‘I would rather it was spent on other people,’ he says.

‘There was one girl from Newcastle with her three children in an apartment about the size of this room. The children didn’t even understand why she was there.

‘I’m here going through the same thing but I’m in a great apartment and I have visits from friends or family. I can’t complain.’

He also believes there has been a positive change in his thinking. ‘When I retired in July [2017] I went through a bad time. Then this. Of course when I see Liverpool in a Champions League game I miss playing but things have been put into perspective.

‘My career is over. Sadly, I had to retire early (due to a knee injury) but this has helped me see that it is not so important. Now I’m focusing on staying well.’

And football is still there. He’ll be a fan on Saturday and a player again on June 8 in Hong Kong.

‘It will be great to wear a Liverpool shirt again,’ he says. ‘I’ll enjoy it, for sure.’

 



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