"I want to tell anybody who may, in the future, be diagnosed with this illness that they shouldn't worry. It is a tough illness, but it's one you can get through if you fight it." The still bald head evidenced José Francisco Molina's own battle against the disease. But the bold words left no doubt that the RC Deportivo La Coruña goalkeeper already considers himself a cancer survivor.
Yesterday Molina faced the Spanish media in happier circumstances than those which had surrounded his previous press briefing three months before. Then the 32-year-old had to announce that he was going into temporary retirement in his home city Valencia following the recurrence of testicular cancer. An intensive course of chemotherapy awaited him, rather than an autumn spent alternating between matches in Spain's Primera División and the UEFA Champions League.
Ready and able
Now, 87 days later, Molina is ready to resume his career. Doctors have given him the all-clear; he has beaten this latest manifestation of the illness and will be back in training with Deportivo on 20 January.
'Back to my best'
The former Club Atlético de Madrid custodian is consequently "in great spirits" but accepts that he has much to do before he can pull on the No1 shirt he last wore in the 2-0 home defeat by Real Racing Santander on 6 October. "I know that I will have to train really hard to get back to my best after a break like this," he said. "But I don't think it will take too long to get back into shape. Even though I haven't been involved with the football club for three months, I'm not in that bad a shape. I have been going to a gym and working with a fitness trainer."
Speaking to journalists, Molina admitted his debt to his family and close friends, but also expressed his gratitude to the many well-wishers who had contacted him during his enforced absence from the game. Among them, another former Valencia CF player, Lubo Penev, who had recovered from testicular cancer to join Molina in Atlético's double-winning team of 1996. "He gave me a real lift," said the goalkeeper.
A normal life
Molina's doctor now believes his "ideal patient" can follow the example of the ex-Bulgarian international by making a successful return to top-class football. "In the most recent tests we carried out, there was no sign of the illness," Vicente Guillén said. "His treatment went as well as it could have done, and there's no reason why he cannot now lead a normal life."
According to Deportivo's club doctor, César Cobián, Molina "can make a quick comeback, because the position of goalkeeper is less demanding on your body than that of an outfield player". "I am delighted," Cobián said. "The empty space that we all felt after he left has been filled again and from 20 January the squad will be back together. We will then follow a specific training programme to get him, slowly but surely, back to a competitive level."
If and when Molina does make it back into the Deportivo side, he will doubtless spare a thought for his fellow sufferers. With a year of hospital check-ups ahead of him, he will remain close to "all those people who are struggling against this disease".
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