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Carl Ikeme's mum: I'll never forget the day of his diagnosis

Wolves | Published:

In the final day of our exclusive serialisation of Why Not Me? – Carl Ikeme’s new book – the former goalkeeper’s mum Jackie recalls the day he told her he had leukaemia.

Carl Ikeme with his mother, Jackie.

Carl was as good as gold growing up. Like a lot of lads, as long as he was playing football, he was happy, and didn’t need to be wandering the streets with his friends.

Carl’s Dad, Ike, was a very good tennis player, but he had Carl kicking a ball from a very young age, probably from the moment he could walk.

Football was another family for Carl, and that kept him disciplined and gave him something to aim for, which maybe some of the other kids didn’t have and so they went down a different path.

I am sure I don’t know everything that went on, and I am sure that Carl wasn’t completely golden in terms of his behaviour all of the time, but he didn’t give us many problems.

When it came to his football, Carl started playing for Castlehurst Colts, then went on to Chelmsley Ravens, and we would go and watch him as much as we could. Then he got spotted by Villa, and started going off to their Academy training.

Eventually he had enough at Villa, it was all quite intense for the kids, and he just said he didn’t want to go back any more and preferred to go and play with his mates in Sunday League again.

When he eventually tried again at Wolves Academy, it felt like a totally different set-up right from the start.

There wasn’t as much pressure and they looked after the kids a bit better, and Carl was also a bit older by that time and was able to handle everything more easily.

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It was probably only at this point that we started to think that just maybe he had a chance of making it.

Sure enough he did, being offered the scholarship, and even now, I can remember all of us going along for the day, Carl doing his medical and then signing the forms to make it all official.

It was a great day for us all, but even then I am sure I was thinking and wondering what might happen if he didn’t make it. That’s natural for a mum I suppose!

I won’t ever forget the day of his diagnosis – Wednesday, July 5, 2017.

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It was about 4 o’clock, and I was at his Nan’s house.

He phoned me up and said: “Are you alright, Mum?” I said yes, and then he asked if I was at work, and I said: “No, why? What do you want?”

It was then that he let out this terrible cry and was sobbing, and he couldn’t get his words out.

Ikeme was in and out of hospital as he battled leukaemia

I don’t know how long it all went on for, but it seemed like an eternity.

I said to my daughter Tayla that we needed to get around to see him, and so that is what we did, with no idea what we were going to find when we got there.

When we arrived, Saba, heavily pregnant, was sat in the window seat and Carl was on the settee.

I can still recall the moment vividly, as Carl said that he’d got blood cancer, and feared that he was never going to see his daughter grow up.

Tayla screamed, and I just sat down, totally dumbfounded.

I didn’t know what to think, as we didn’t even have an inkling that there was anything wrong – we didn’t even know Carl had been going for tests.

I put my arm around him and said I was going to help him get through this, and I said we were going to do this right, because we were only going to do it once.

I didn’t say it at the time, but of course that thought went through my head: ‘Are we going to lose him?’

How could we say that he was going to get well again?

We didn’t know.  And I just didn’t know how to find the right words. And so the nightmare had begun.

I had worked in a chip shop for many years, and remember phoning to say I needed the night off.

The reality was: ‘Would I ever be able to go back to work again?’

Hospital appointments at Heartlands became a daily event, which is where Stiliyan Petrov came to see Carl, and we met his consultant Manos for the first time.

Manos handed a piece of paper to Carl, with some information about the disease, and Carl passed it on to me.

“Is this a guarantee that you are going to cure my son?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied.

And that is a moment I will never forget.

We were all on such an emotional rollercoaster, and I have no idea how Carl felt, but he was incredibly strong through those early days.

As any parent would say, I would have taken this for myself, rather than to see Carl going through it.

He was young, fit, in his prime.  So why him? And yet, as Carl himself said, why not him?

After getting over that initial shock, and speaking to the Doctors, the feedback was very positive about what the treatment could achieve.

So from there, once I got to grips with it, I truly believed that Carl was going to be well again, and that is where all my focus was going to be.

The way he went into the treatment, and how strong he stayed, was an inspiration to all of us.

I had been a daddy’s girl myself, and when I lost my Dad when I was only 26, I wondered what the point was in living.

But then a young Carl came back from school, running up the path in his green coat and green and red bobble hat, and I knew that he was my reason for living.

That is why I think I have such a close bond with Carl, I poured everything into him.

And so, I thought, if he was going to die, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to live. But once I recovered from the shock, and got that piece of paper from Manos which said they were going to cure him, that was what I held on to.

We travelled that journey with him, and tried to do what we could, and he has been incredibly tough and strong all the way.

Another thing I will always remember, is telling him when we first took him up to Manchester, in that awful time not long after his diagnosis, that we were going to bring him back again at the end.

And we did.

Carl’s book – for which he joined freelance journalist and former Wolves press officer Paul Berry – is on sale at the Wolves club shop, and Wolverhampton’s Waterstones book shop.

He will be signing copies at Waterstones on Saturday (12-2pm), and at the club shop on Saturday, December 14 (10am to 12pm) and Thursday, December 19 (5-7pm).

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