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Yeray ecstatic over Athletic Bilbao return after defeating cancer

Athletic Bilbao defender Yeray Alvarez has been experiencing the "happiest time of his life" since his return to action after engaging in a second battle with testicular cancer.

The 23-year-old started in Sunday's 2-1 league defeat at Girona. His previous La Liga appearance had been on May 21, 2017.

"This is the happiest time of my life," Yeray told Cadena Ser radio. "On Sunday, I felt more butterflies in my stomach than the day I made my debut after returning to play 260 days since my last league appearances. It was as though I was making my debut again."

Yeray, who had a testicular tumour detected and removed in December 2016 before returning to play in February 2017, left Spain's under-21 squad last summer after a medical check-up revealed that the cancer had returned.

"If I'm honest, I've cried a few times in my life," he said. "But the lowest point was when I found out that the cancer was back while I was with the national team.

"That day, I arrived to Bilbao and I saw my parents, who were told that their 22-year-old son had cancer recurrence. That was the hardest time. Not just for me but for the people around me."

Yeray Alvarez Athletic Bilbao
Yeray Alvarez was first diagnosed with testicular cancer in December 2016.

Yeray was given the "all-clear" by his club to return to action in November, five months after receiving chemotherapy.

He says the support of his teammates was crucial in his recovery. All the players in the Athletic team shaved their heads as a sign of solidarity shortly after Yeray began treatment.

"It was very touching to see my teammates with shaved heads, it really helped me," he said.

Athletic coach Jose Angel Ciganda is just pleased to have Yeray back in the squad.

A youth product of Athletic, Yeray started 25 times in La Liga last season while also making eight Europa League appearances.

"Yeray is the story," Ziganda said in his postmatch news conference. "We know how much he has worked to recover. He gave a good performance."

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.

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