Imbroda's biggest challenge yet

Javier Imbroda coached top flight basketball teams for 17 seasons.
Javier Imbroda coached top flight basketball teams for 17 seasons. / SUR
  • The former national basketball coach talks about his ordeal after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. “It is important to be mentally strong to beat this illness,” he says

He was always reluctant to go to the doctor. He went for three years without ever consulting his GP and had no check-ups, not even a blood or urine test.

“What for?” he would ask. He always felt well and never took any medication, not even during the three months when he was suffering discomfort but still didn't seek medical advice. “I was having difficulty urinating, but I thought it was just a slight infection,” he explains.

Today, Javier Imbroda realises that the “unimportant symptoms” he was experiencing almost cost him his life. He had prostate cancer. “It was grade 10, the most aggressive and with metastasis,” he says.

How could that have happened? All medical studies which have been carried out have associated prevention of cancer with physical exercise and a healthy diet and lifestyle. Imbroda, who was the national basketball coach and trainer in the ACB league for 17 seasons with teams such as Real Madrid, Unicaja (Malaga) and Caja San Fernando (Seville), filled all those criteria, but he was aware that it didn't necessarily mean absolute protection.

“Athletes aren't immune to illness, although the discipline does help us prepare mentally to deal with it,” he says.

One year on, he is clear of cancer and all the signs are normal. He feels able to talk about his experience and wants to do so, “in case it helps”, in the same way that he has tackled the cancer during these months: with the determination to beat it, and a competitive spirit.

After his initial shock of knowing that he could have cancer, the ordeal continued until the diagnosis was definitely confirmed. “I had test after test after test, and it was hard to deal with, emotionally. The first results were inconclusive and I really began to worry, until a second biopsy confirmed the worst,” he explains.

He still remembers feeling stunned when he was given the news. His wife had accompanied him to see the specialist.

“It is like a physical blow, plus there is the impact of not really understanding what it is that you have, or whether it can be cured, or whether the treatment will work,” he says. In his case, all that information was provided by the doctors in the form of a number: they said he would live ten years, maximum.

“They gave me an expiry date, and I knew that time was running out,” he says. “When that happens, and your life is at stake, it doesn't matter what you have achieved in the past. My wife told me this was the one match I really had to win, and that's what I'm doing.”

Imbroda says the hardest thing was to face up to his illness, but once the 'enemy' had been identified, he passed from desolation to determination.

“I prepared myself, I found my strength and told myself: now I'm the one who is coming for you,” he says. He decided to face up to the illness and not to give in, “not one centimetre, because cancer doesn't understand pauses”. And in that battle against the 'invading army' which was weakening his physical health, “attacking territory and conquering new areas”, Imbroda admits that he used to talk to his healthy cells. He had to explain the enemy's strategy and urge them to fight “so they didn't decide swap sides”.

But how? One thing he had learned, on the way to becoming the coach with the fifth highest number of wins in the history of Spanish basketball, was that mental strength is the key to facing up to difficult situations.

“It's inevitable that sometimes you feel down, but you can't allow yourself to do that,” he explains. As well as that mental strength, he says it is vital to stay active and follow the usual way of life. That's why, sticking to the discipline of someone who has been involved in sport all his life, the cancer has not stopped him taking exercise or even enjoying “my rum and cigar on occasions” he says.

During the months he was battling cancer he continued to live a normal life, being involved in his foundation to help children at risk of social exclusion, his business projects running different medical and professional training centres and even finding time to criticise the Machester City coach on Twitter: “Hearing Pep Guardiola talk of democracy and the 'people' is like listening to Falete talk about the Mediterranean diet. And may Falete forgive me,” he posted.

Medicine, attitude and family. Those are three fundamental elements of survival, and the last of them has been essential for Imbroda. “My family is strong, but I have always tried to let them see me well and cheerful, to keep them calm. I try, as much as possible, to continue living as normally as I can,” he says.

Imbroda admits that he felt that death was close at times and he feels pain for those who haven't survived, but above everything else he says he has learned a great deal. He has come out of this experience strong, and with renewed vitality. He looks to the future with serenity, with no fear of his next check-up in March, determined never to give up and permanently on guard mentally in case of any future rebellion.