Brunko Iliev: I have been fighting cancer for 13 years

Brunko Iliev: I have been fighting cancer for 13 years
Brunko Iliev: I have been fighting cancer for 13 years

Brunko Iliev Gavrilov is from the glorious generation of volleyball nationals who won the silver medals at the world championship in Sofia in 1970. He was born on November 22, 1945 in the village of Tranchovitsa. He is a competitor of Slavia, with whom he is a three-time national champion and a two-time cup winner. He is the father of former volleyball national Ivaylo Gavrilov.

Already as coach of the Bulgarian national team, Brunko Iliev led the team to 4th place in the World Volleyball League in 1999 and 2004. As a youth coach, he was European champion in 1986, and in 2003 he took the bronze medals at the world championships in Iran.

He became the champion of Bulgaria three times as coach of "Levski", being the first to bring the team into the Volleyball Champions League. In "Slavia" he won the title with the youth team of the "Whites" in 2011 and to this day he trains children in the same club. Few know, however, that the coach battled colon cancer for years. Specially for "Doctor" Brunko Iliev told how to live under stress and what are the consequences on his own he alth.

Mr. Iliev, did you have any serious injuries as a competitor?

- My only problem as a competitor was at the World Championships in Sofia in 1970. I had a sciatica (sciatic nerve) and I couldn't perform properly. Then our team slept in the hotel "Chepishev", where the beds were short for the height of volleyball players and with springs. I had sunk into that spring, and in the morning I woke up all stiff. I played like that the first match with Italy and then until the last match, the final with the GDR.

Were you on painkillers then?

- There were no strong painkillers then. Now it's enough to take one or two suppositories or apply a detergent and I'll be fine. Then they beat injections deep into my lower back, but the pain could not subside. The World Cup was over and then he let me go. After that it still hurt from time to time, but not as bad. Otherwise, I have not received the usual injuries for athletes. Only my shoulder hurt for a month in 1972, but it went away in the summer with a break from work. I had no injuries because I started playing volleyball very late - at 18, when a person's bone structure is already built. That's why my sports career was long. I played until the age of 41, the last time I was in the Teteven team. Whereas now we make children train at the age of 9-10. Small cartilages wear more easily.

Are you he althy now? I know you went through a very difficult illness

- In 2001 I was operated on for colon carcinoma and then had three more operations - all with an incision from the navel down. For two years I did chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The operation passes in a week and so does the pain. But chemotherapy and radiotherapy are much more difficult to tolerate. I'm fighting this desolate cancer. But they have supported me for 13-14 years now. I still work, I coach children in "Slavia".

How was your cancer diagnosed?

- The first time bleeding occurred, I was in Belgium with Levski Sikonko. I thought it was hemorrhoids. Then it was found out that it was carcinoma. You know that when cancer is late, treatment becomes very difficult. There are people who go for chemotherapy in Turkey, in Spain, who are dissatisfied with the treatment in Bulgaria. But I went to the doctor much earlier and the tumor was caught at an early stage.

My mother had breast cancer

She got radiation in her lung and died. Maybe there is something hereditary that makes me sick too. The reason may be in the coaching profession, that we are constantly under stress. Wherever I've been, if the team isn't doing well, they fire the coach. Our job is not easy.

Who operated on you and in which hospital?

- I was first operated on at Tsaritsa Joanna Hospital - ISUL. Then - in 2004 - Prof. Dimitrov operated on me in the Oncology Department. Then in "Pirogov" I was operated on by a very good surgeon, Dr. Tony Filipov, who is the son of a volleyball player. His mother died of cancer and that's why he became a doctor. Now Dr. Filipov works in a Government Hospital. My last surgery was in 2006. I was a coach in the city of Konya, Turkey.

But I broke the contract because it relapsed again. The operation was performed by Prof. Dimitrova from the First Surgery of Aleksandrovsk Hospital. I am most satisfied with her because no one else wanted to operate on me then. Prof. Dimitrova told me: "If you want, have an operation. It means to keep living. If not, you know…”. It's been seven years since that operation and I'm alive. He althy - not so much, but I'm alive. (laughs).

Were the four operations due to tumor recurrence necessary?

- Yes. At first in 3, then in 6 months, and now once a year I have a magnetic resonance imaging with Assoc. Ivanov in the Military Hospital and monitor my condition. I have known him for a long time, we worked together in Tunisia, where there were many Bulgarian doctors.

Can you compare Bulgarian hospitals with those abroad?

- I was in a hospital in Konya, where they did a colonoscopy. They have very good specialists in Turkey. They told me that I should have the surgery within a month at the latest. They wanted to remove my colon tumor there, but it would cost much more than in Bulgaria. The volleyball club of Konya did not commit and I came here. Hospitals in Turkey are very modern. There are those in our country too.

My last surgery was last year for a hernia

The hernia appeared because I have been cut many times. The hospital I was in is on the level - First surgery on Aleksandrovska. The ICU is clean and nice, the beds and rooms are also nice. But remembering my first colon surgery - the conditions in ISUL were very bad 13 years ago.

What is your impression of Bulgarian doctors?

- We have very good specialists. I am convinced that Prof. Dimitrov, Prof. Dimitrova, and Dr. Filipov are very good surgeons. And the attitude of the staff during my rehabilitation was then at a level.

In twenty days you will be 69 years old. What will you wish for on this day?

- Every year I say to myself: I wish I could work a little more. Because I can't sit idle, just walk around and play cards. As a children's coach, my time passes more easily, and I am useful for the family - I always bring some money home. When I go to my village, people shout: "You have so much money, why are you still working!?" They think that since I was the coach of the national team, I received a lot of money! I'm not, but that's what people think.

I am from the Pleven village Tranchovitsa. The actor Grigor Vachkov was also born there. We are the two most famous people in our village. When my son Ivaylo was small, we passed by the stadium in Trančovitsa and I told him: "I became an athlete here." We entered the center and there - the "Grigor Vachkov" folk community center. The actor had already died when the community center was named after him. Then my son shouts: "Hey, dad, when you die, they will name the stadium after you.” (laughs)

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