I was only 23 when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
A lot of people know my story, but I think many forget just how young I was. It was May 2001, and I had just had the best year of my career. I was enjoying great individual success. Cancer is the last thing you expect.
But I look back now and think that, in many ways, my age helped me. The news was really, really hard for my family to take, but for me it was easier. Better to be 23 than 33 or 43, because I was just so naive. And back then, things were more simple. I didn’t Google anything. Didn’t read anything.
I was diagnosed. I was told what it was. Right, okay. Get upset, get angry, deal with the people around you, and then get on with it. There was no drama.
“How was I going to tell my mum? It was like having to go home and tell her I was in detention”
The first question was easy: will I live?
The doctor told me there was a good success rate, but it wasn’t 100 per cent. Not ideal, but it sounded better than nothing.
Next question: will I play football again?
The doctor asked me what I wanted him to tell me. The truth.
“There is every chance you won’t, because if the cancer has spread then it’s very dangerous.”
My first thought was: “Shit. My career’s over.”
Immediately, it became: “How am I going to tell my mum?” It was like having to go home and tell her I was in detention. Then my girlfriend, who is now my wife. My dad. My sister. My nan. Days like that stick in your mind.
I remember the next few days, just getting through them. I spoke to Theo Paphitis, who was Millwall chairman at the time. Mark McGhee was the manager, and they were just brilliant fellas. During that whole period – and afterwards too, when I was really struggling for form – they were outstanding.