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The referee was able to beat the disease and return to officiating in the Premier League and promises the Aston Villa man that he will offer any help that he can

Referee Mark Halsey has warned Aston Villa’s Stiliyan Petrov that he will face a difficult ordeal but that he can expect his personal support as well as that of the entire football community in the wake of the midfielder’s diagnosis with leukaemia.

The 50-year-old is himself a cancer survivor, having beaten the disease and since returned to officiating in the Premier League, and promised any aid that he can give to the Bulgarian.

The news came only hours after Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba was pictured on Friday in recovery from his on-pitch cardiac arrest, and Halsey told The Daily Mirror: “I felt that elation [about Muamba] and was on top of the world.

“You feel so good about life again – and then you get hit with this. I’ve refereed Stiliyan a lot and he is a lovely guy.

“It needs Stiliyan to get his friends and family, and the whole of football, round him. People will rally round and that is a major help.

“He has got to go about his life as normally as possible. There will be bad days, but you get them in life anyway.

“I have offered Villa my support. You don’t know what it is like until you go through it. I have had chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“My wife, Michelle, has leukaemia and is on drugs every day. She leads a normal life, too, although she also has her bad days.

“If Stiliyan wants to give me a call, I am here morning, noon and night.

“At first your whole world caves in. My instant reaction was, ‘Am I going to die?’ But you have got to battle.”

Former England midfielder Geoff Thomas is another leukaemia survivor, and he told the newspaper: “The first couple of days are really difficult, but from then on you do try and pick up inspirations and positive thoughts from everyone.

“I was looking at messages of support from everyone from the world of football and further afield.

“I read a book about Lance Armstrong, who had battled cancer and gone on to do tremendous things. I tried to get any positives I could. That’s how I attacked it.”

Dr Chris Bunce, research director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, added that the disease does not often hit someone so young, and that Petrov’s age and physical condition should be a boost in his battle.

“Thirty-two is a young age to develop acute leukaemia. It is more common in people in their 60s,” he explained.

“He will be able to take more aggressive therapy as he is younger. Being fit should mean he will respond better to the treatment.”

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