When Danielle Gibbons from Chorley was told that she had a brain tumour, the diagnosis came as a complete shock.
The Liverpool Ladies goalkeeper initially visited the hospital because her ear had been ringing for several days and she thought that she had a rubber ball from a 3G pitch stuck inside.
However, after seeing several doctors and having an MRI scan, she found out that it was something much more serious – she had acoustic neuroma.
“I was absolutely fine until I’d left the hospital and it had time to sink in,” Gibbons said.
“At first I didn’t really take it in, but I think that was a combination of not fully understanding the type of tumour that it was and that I couldn’t believe what I’d been told.
“I was also concerned about how the tumour would impact on my playing career.”
Acoustic neuroma is a non-cancerous type of tumour and normally they don’t grow so the doctors didn’t take any action until a check-up a year later.
At an annual scan to assess the situation, the doctors found out that the tumour had been unexpectedly growing and would need to be taken out.
The 24-year-old was booked in for surgery in July, the peak of the women’s football season, which added to her worries.
“I was more anxious about the fact that the surgery would ruin my chances of making a comeback in the second half of the season. I was worried about my parents too, because they were stressed with the prospect of the operation,” the former Preston North End goalkeeper said.
“Telling my teammates was really difficult. Although I’d planned it out in my head, when it actually came to it I was shaking like a leaf and I had to leave the room and gather myself.
“In the build-up to the surgery there were some moments where I’d break down and cry when the worry would build up.
“I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to play again or if Liverpool would want me afterwards.”
The 10-hour surgery left her permanently deaf in the left ear.
The shot-stopper had to spend a week in the recovery ward to regain her senses and was bed bound for the first three days.
“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday all morphed into one blur and I didn’t know what happened on which day,” Gibbons reflected.
“Those initial days after the surgery were probably three of the worst days of my life but soon after that I started to improve a lot.”
“I made friends with two other patients and we instantly clicked because we were all in the same situation”
A week later, Gibbons had the 29 staples taken out of her head and she was discharged but was wheelchair bound.
Eight weeks after the surgery, Gibbons started to build up her fitness again and after three months away from the squad, she was back in full training with the Liverpool team.
“I can’t remember the exact first session I had because it was a gradual build up. One of the first things I did though was simply to walk around the pitch turning cones over at random intervals to build up my balance during movements,” she reflected.
“It was very laborious but it had to be done. I remember when I first did some goalkeeping though and I felt like a kid at Christmas. It felt like a milestone had been reached and I was proud to be back on the pitch.
“Football kept me motivated and gave me a focus for my recovery.
I always had something to aim for as the season ongoing at the time of the surgery and during my recovery.”
With the surgery behind her, things seemed to be on the up for Gibbons until disaster struck.
“I trained too hard to try and speed up my recovery but my body couldn’t cope,” she said.
“It was so frustrating because I had been waiting for so long but I learnt from it.”
Despite initially setting a target of being on the bench before the end of the season, in October she surpassed all expectations by starting in the WSL 1 match against Bristol Academy.
“I was shaking in the changing rooms before kick-off and I could feel the nerves building up inside of me,” she said.
“It was obviously a proud moment to play again after the surgery for both myself and my family, although looking back on it I wasn’t really fit to play.
“Nevertheless, I was glad that it happened because I’d set a goal of being in the squad again that season, and I was glad to be able to achieve it.”
Just three days after the Bristol game, Gibbons went on to make her Champions League debut against Brescia.
“Playing in the Champions League was a dream of mine growing up, so it was amazing to walk out to the anthem in front of a few thousand hostile Italian fans. That was definitely an experience that I’ll never forget.”
Despite being partially deaf, her football career is going from strength to strength and she recently signed a new contract at Liverpool in February.
“I’m pleased that it hasn’t affected my playing career, but at the same time I was determined that it wouldn’t,” she said.
“Playing for Liverpool Ladies is a massive honour. It’s a very special club to be a part of, and being a Liverpool fan myself, as well as my Dad and Uncle, it’s great to be a part of.”
In February the shot-stopper signed a contract extension at the club.
“I was delighted to be offered a new contract,” she said.
“It proved that all my worries that I had before the surgery about whether Liverpool would want me anymore were for nothing.”