To suggest that Mark Farren has been to hell and back over the past two years, would be something of an understatement.
The 28-year-old Derry City striker has had a tumour removed from his brain less than a month ago and in another exclusive interview with "Derry Journal" Sports Editor, ARTHUR DUFFY, the Greencastle man will leave his career in the hands of his medical advisors.
In this feature he recalls the worry associated with his condition and, indeed, the weight now removed from his shoulders following the operation. Mark also extends his thanks to all those who have supported him over the past two years. And he has no intention of abandoning his team-mates as they return to the Premier Division in March, 2011.
Diagnosed with a benign tumour on the brain on Christmas Eve, 2008, the life of the quietly-mannered and modest Mark Farren, was immediately thrown into turmoil.
But despite what was a major threat to his health, the accomplished footballer exhibited amazing qualities in not only coming to terms with his health difficulties, but was determined to battle adversity and deal with situation full on.
And let's not forget that dark and dangerous cloud which hovered over not only the Farren family circle, but also the family of his devoted young wife, Terri who, make no mistake about it, had to call on all her reserves of courage to face up to and deal with her fiance's health problem.
That she certainly did and the couple opted to proceed with their Christmas wedding in 2009 and an extended honeymoon cruising the Carribean before returning home to confront reality.
Little over a month ago - shortly before Christmas - Mark underwent major brain surgery in a Liverpool Hospital to have the tumour removed – a six hour procedure which, thank God, appears to have been successful.
And Mark and Terri are now back home in Moville, looking forward to their future together.
Following news of the positive prognosis, the couple have refused to take anything for granted, but they do realise life in the future may not see Mark donning his favoured No. 18 'Candy Striped' jersey, playing in front of an adoring Brandywell Faithful.
The Christmas period, therefore, will continue to bring mixed emotions to the Farren household, but the 2010 period has fashioned relief, happiness and positivity to a 28-year-old man who is now keen to move on and enjoy life to the full, hopefully within the sport of football.
Confident and Coherent
Speaking exclusively to me this week, Mark appeared fit and happy; he spoke confidently and coherently and with Terri sitting closely by his side, he answered the questions posed displaying great courage and honesty.
While the hair on the side of his head around his ear had been shaved for the operation, his dark locks have now grown to sufficiently hide the scars and while he was noticeably protective of that particular area of his head, he smiled and laughed his way throughout our interview, clearly a very, very relieved individual.
"I'm feeling great to be perfectly honest, obviously I'm delighted that the operation is now behind me and everything has gone well, that's according to the surgeon and medical people," he declared.
"I tried to take everything in my stride when informed that I needed to have the operation. As time went on, I felt I was well prepared for it, but that was until I met the surgeon again the night before the operation was to take place.
"At that stage I had to sign the consent documentation which made fully aware of the risks associated with the procedure. I must admit, that set me back a bit when it was clearly pointed out what could actually happen to me. It was scary enough, but I knew I had to get on with it, sign the forms and move on," added the player.
"Naturally I had thought a lot about the operation before hand, but the night before, after signing the consent forms, certainly put everything into perspective."
The six hour procedure went well. The surgeon was very happy at how it all panned out, and Farren was left to focus on his rehabiliation and a lengthy recuperation period.
Five days later he was on his way back home. "That was absolutely fantastic for me, I couldn't have wished for anything better.
"My condition was diagnosed on Christmas Eve, 2008. I got married at Christmas 2009 and before Christmas 2010 I had my operation. Time has flown. Christmas was obviously much quieter than normal in 2010 as I wasn't out and about as much, but it was a Happy Christmas for us and I was so glad to be back home.
"I think recovering at home in the company of the people I am very close to has helped my recovery. It's helped to speed up the process, the doctors were right about that. They told me that I would progress much faster at home rather than remaining in a hospital."
Feeling good, both mentally and physically, Mark agreed that the weight which had been 'lifted off his shoulders' was significant.
"I feel really good, the constant worry about my condition has been lifted not just off my shoulders, but also off the shoulders of Terri, my mum and dad and family and Terri's family.
"I know I can't take anything for granted and I will have another scan in a few months time which, hopefully, will confirm the surgeon's comments after the operation.. That scan will tell the surgeon how well the operation has gone, but I feel good within myself. My only problem has been the boredom since I returned home," laughed Mark.
Despite living with the tumour and the difficulties it had caused over the past two years, he refused contemplate depression, instead he adopted a very positive attitude. His idea was that in order to live life to the full, he required treatment.
And while there was always a worry, his involvement with Derry City Football Club was pivotal in keeping the centre-forward sane.
He managed to net 20 goals in all competitions last season - having emerged the club's leading scorer in five of the last six seasons - and he certainly played his part in the club's immediate return to the Airtricity Premier Division.
He signed off having scored the only goal in the final game against Monaghan at Gortakeegan to complete his valuable contribution and following the final whistle in that match, the story was more about Mark Farren than Derry's automatic promotion.
Playing football, therefore, helped him retain his sanity. Having joined the club in 2003, he relished representing a team which had held him in high regard.
"Playing football kept me busy during my illness. Training every day and playing matches at weekends was important for me. After I had been diagnosed, I took some time off, but it was so important for me to get back playing and I enjoyed every minute of it.
"Everytime I had to go for a scan, I thought about the possibility of receiving bad news, but playing football kept me going and I was very thankful for that.."
Since his return from Liverpool, he would admit to probably watching more football on television than anyone else alive.
"I've been watching quite a lot of it recently as there's not too much I can do, but it helps beat the boredom.
"I can do very little, but I'm obviously anxious to make a full recovery. I've taken all the medical advice on board and, fingers crossed, I'll be in a position to keep myself fit if nothing else before the summer.
"At the moment I'm not ready to attend the gym but do go for leisurely walks and stuff like that, I'm not ready for any strenuous exercise just yet."
Football would remain a major part of life, even if he does not play competitively again.
"At this moment in time, I would like to coach kids, which would keep me busy, particularly during the summer months. Football has been my life and even if I never be allowed to play again, I'd like to think I would be involved in the game in some capacity.
"I'd love to try my luck at coaching kids. When I was young I certainly didn't get the level of coaching that is available to youngsters today, but I think I'd like to be part of that and help out as much as I can."
Looking to the future and, indeed, the possibility of having played his final competitive game, Mark is realistic.
"Medical advice will probably decide that question. Obviously, I have always known that I would have to make that decision at some stage in the future.
"But the decision has come much quicker than I anticipated. I don't think I'm in any rush into making it just yet, after all the operation took place just under a month ago.
"I've progressed really well so far with so side issues. After three months, I'd be hopeful that I've moved on much further, so I don't think I need to make that decision just yet.
"I'm also intelligent enough to realise that there are priorities in life and if I'm advised that by playing football I would be putting my health at risk, then the decision will have been made for me.
"My family and my wife's family and friends have been a tower of strength to me. Derry City Football Club and everyone associated with the club, have been absolutely brilliant to me, both before and after the operation.
"I've received texts, letters and e-mails from Derry City supporters wishing me well. And those supporters are not just from Derry, I've had letters and cards from supporters who live in Omagh and Strabane.
"My team-mates have constantly remained in touch with me to find out I'm progressing and even former team-mates such as David Forde (at Millwall) and Sammy Morrow (at Tranmere) have kept in touch with me, so I've had so much support and I'm really pleased about that.
"I've also received correspondence from people who have gone through similar operations and they boosted my confidence with their stories. I very much appreciated their support and advice.
"I have had tremendous support, no one has invaded on my privacy, everyone has been supportive and concerned about my well being.. People have had Masses said on my behalf during what was a tough time and I'm really thankful for that concern, it's been unbelievable and I will be eternally grateful.
"I couldn't have got through this without the support which was offered to me. It was phenomenal from people I don't know personally, but the messages and get well cards I received were so important to me and I'd really like to thank all those people for their genuine concern."
No-one Abandoned Me
Mark also had praise for his current manager who remains in touch with him on a regular basis.
"Stephen (Kenny) has been down with me on quite a few occasions, checking me out. He's been brilliant and the club has never ruled out the question of me actually making a return, which is nice," continued Mark.
"Derry City continue to offer me whatever support I need and, who knows, if I'm not going to play again, maybe there are jobs I could take on either within the club or, indeed, within local football just to keep me involved.
"Thankfully, no-one has abandoned me and if I have to retire, then that's fine, I'll deal with that in my own way. Everyone at Derry City has been brilliant and I will be forever thankful for that."
While he may not be involved in the business end at the Brandywell come March 6th, Farren will be adding his support from the comfort of the Glentoran Stand.
"I really can't wait for the Premier Division season to kick-off and while I'll not be involved in any pre-season training, I am capable of supporting my team-mates and that will never change," he concluded.