UTD Unscripted: This is the fight of my life
You never know what tomorrow brings.
The first sign I had that something was wrong with me was when I tried eating an apple one morning. That was standard for me because I like keeping myself fit, but on this particular morning I just couldn’t swallow it.
I assumed it was a big piece of apple, but then the same thing happened the next day.
Then it happened again.
I went to the doctors and told them that I couldn’t swallow. They said it was probably just reflux or something and gave me some tablets.
But this went on for a long, long time, so I kept going to the doctors.
“I’m not eating anything,” I said. “I can hardly swallow anything.”
They said I was fine and they didn’t have an idea what was wrong with me. But looking back, all the symptoms were clear.
After that, I was away with United on tour and Bryan Robson, who has been ill himself, looked at me and just said: “You need to see a doctor.”
The way Robbo looked at me scared me.
I went the next week and the doctor spoke to me afterwards.
“I couldn’t get the camera down you,” he said.
I went: “What you on about?”
He said: “You’ve got a blockage. Unfortunately for you, he said, you have a very large tumour and it’s not in good condition. It’s bleeding.”
I was on my own by this point. The friend that had come with me to the appointment had gone home because I thought everything was alright.
“So, how long have I got?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve got to test it, see what it is and see if it’s all over your body.”
I had to go for a CT scan to check me out. That came back negative, it was localised in one area. Then I had another check after that. I had to wait 10 days both times, so that was a nervous time for me and my family, wondering whether the cancer was in my organs. That came back clear.
So I’m thinking everything is fine now and they told me they had to give me a third one.
I’m like: Why? You’ve just given me two.
This one will show whether it’s anywhere else – in your toe or anywhere. That was another 10 days we had to wait for, so that was horrific. That came back; it was still just in the one area.
Then the doctor spelled it out: “This is going to be a massive operation.”
Then: “This is a 50/50 chance that you’ve got. The people that have this operation… it’s very complicated.” I was told it was one of the most difficult operations they do with cancer.
I was in shock when they said you might not survive it. Out of 100 people, 70 per cent die, 30 per cent live. So it was worse than 50/50. I just fell over on the floor. I woke up in a hospital bed with wires all over my head and obviously they were concerned but I just couldn’t take it. It freaked me out.
It’s not as simple as just having the operation, though. I had to go through a process, a nine week course of chemotherapy.
That didn’t shrink it.
The doctor told me they had to do the operation immediately. That day. For the four, five days before, I even couldn’t swallow water, so he said it had to be that day because I wouldn’t be there next week.
As you can imagine, I’m walking down to the operating theatre, not knowing what was going to happen, wondering if I’m going to wake up. They had to put me in an induced coma, so I had to have an epidural. I’m sat on the bed, they’re sticking needles in me while I was awake and I knew I wouldn’t be waking up for three or four days because I had to recover from the operation.
Then they put me to sleep.
I remember the first words I heard when I woke up…
“We’ve got the cancer out.”
I was in intensive care after that for 10 days, because I had complications with my heart, with my blood pressure. So for 10 days I was 50/50 again.
I had a very serious infection which could have killed me. That was the more dangerous thing of the operation. So they had to inform my family that obviously this wasn’t good for me at that moment. It was scary. Not so much for me – I was scared, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind admitting I was crying – but my family, I wasn’t sure I was going to be around for them. You get your daughter crying and your son crying and it’s hard to take. I’m thinking of my children and my sister and brother, because they look up to me. And it’s hard. It was horrific, really.
But now, it’s been four months since the operation and obviously it’s going to take a long time for me to get over it. I know that. I’ve had good results from the surgeon and I’ve just got to take my time.
It’s a year to get over it, they say. It’s a massive process. I’ve had my body changed, things taken out my body, my food pipe, so I can’t eat a big meal for the rest of my life. I’ve had a lot of things changed.
It’s also changed my outlook on life. I appreciate things more. When you’re a footballer, everything’s done for you. You don’t have any problems. But from when I walked into Wrexham Hospital, it changed my life. I look at the people dying of cancer and I’m in the same position as them.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s phoning me and texting me and wishing me well and telling me I’m strong enough. Everyone, from Chelsea to Stoke, all the teams I’ve played for. I had letters off them. Ed Woodward, I had letters off him saying everyone is behind you and that gives you a massive lift.
I didn’t realise how well liked I was!
Honestly, I had letters from all over America, Australia, people phoning me up from everywhere. Incredible. Even today, wherever I go. I get stopped every two or three yards by people coming to me and saying: “You’re an inspiration.” I don’t know why! But it’s really warming, that.
Manchester United have been absolutely amazing. They give me the biggest lift that I could possibly want. I know it might seem nothing to some people, but to go to a game, and see people there – I'm thankful for that. Coming to the home games and meeting up with players, it’s great. I go home after and I feel 10 feet tall – even though I’m a midget!
I just want to get back to being me again, if I can. I want to be confident again. You know, I’ve lost a lot of confidence, of course I have. It’s something that is a big thing, people die from different things but cancer is massive. So many people have got it and when it actually comes in your direction, you find out how difficult it can be.
I say my prayers every night anyway, but in the back of my mind I’m still thinking: am I going to be here tomorrow? Is something going to happen while I’m sleeping? Am I going to wake up? That’s what I get scared of at the moment and I’ve got to try and get out of that.
I’m happy with the way my progress is going, in general. Everything has to be day-by-day now. I’m not sure what tomorrow brings for me, but I’m thankful for today.