Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi confessed he had lost his professional and personal focus, lapsing into depression and alcoholism. “It’s a terrible paradox, but the cancer saved me.”
The Italy international was diagnosed with testicular cancer when a routine medical upon his transfer to Sassuolo in the summer of 2013 flagged up unusual blood test readings.
After surgery to remove the tumour, a few months later he failed an anti-doping test and again it was due to irregular hormone levels caused by the return of the cancer.
“I stopped being scared six years ago,” he told La Repubblica. “I was thinking to myself, what will you do if it comes back again? I’ll face it again, I replied. I see things very clearly in front of me and I know that it could all change from one day to the next.
“I had chemotherapy from January 7 2014 to March 14. It was like stepping into a parallel world, the entrance to which is closer than you could possibly think, so you never leave it again. It’s a world of pain and of courage.”
Acerbi’s career had never quite flourished the way it was expected to, but since the cancer scare, he has become a completely different player, a bedrock of Lazio and regular in the Italy squad.
“I think having that illness improved me as a person, cancelling out remorse and regret. I became an observer of my surroundings. I eliminated the superfluous, the negative, but also the illusions. I stopped dreaming big and started to focus on simple targets.
“I also continue to work with the psychoanalyst who I’ve been seeing since my time at Sassuolo. He is in Modena, I am in Rome, so we have videochats on Friday afternoons. It’s an hour that does me good.
“After my father died, when I was playing for Milan, I hit rock bottom. It was as if I’d forgotten how to play, or why I was playing. I started drinking and, believe me, I’d drink anything. It might seem like a terrible paradox, but the cancer saved me. I had something new to fight against, a limit to overcome. It was as if I got to start life all over again and saw the world in a way I’d completely forgotten.”
Acerbi tries to live each day as it comes, but that doesn’t mean he has given up on future plans and ambitions.
“I’d love to play on until I am 38 years old, as I still have some things I’d like to achieve with Lazio, then I’d like to become a coach.”