Anja Pfluger was 14 as she suddenly felt listless. She was playing in the regional cup with her select XI. The physical problems kept getting worse and so she went to an emergency doctor, who immediately referred her to a children's clinic in Ulm. Her blood was tested. The diagnosis was devastating: leukaemia.
“At first, I didn't even know what that meant. I had never dealt with a serious illness before,” said Pfluger. Especially not with an illness that threatened her young life. “It was a very difficult situation for my entire family. I tried to stay positive and think about getting better again, so that I could be back on the pitch with my friends again,” she explained. Numerous chemotherapy treatments fought against the cancer cells in her body for a year. Then came the good news; Pfluger had successfully battled back against the disease.
At least that is how it seemed. Just before her 16th birthday and a call-up to the Germany under-17s, the leukaemia returned. “This was a lot worse than the first time. This time, I knew what I could expect. It felt more final,” Pfluger said. Despite the situation, she did not complain about how unfair life could be on a young girl. She battled back again. The doctors decided upon searching for a bone marrow donor. “It was at this point where I found out that I had a very rare bone marrow, and it would not be easy to find a suitable donor,” she added.
The Württemburg FA, her home club VfB Friedrichshafen, the surrounding clubs and the German FA helped out and called for people to register and donate bone marrow. Thankfully, a suitable donor was found. It was not close to home, though. Instead, it was 7,500km away from her parents’ home in Meckenbeuren. It was a donor from Puerto Rico.
“In my situation to find a donor who is a 10/10 match, that was like getting all six numbers on the lotto and the bonus ball as well,” Pfluger said. The likelihood of surviving the phase up until the transplant was only around 40%. Nevertheless, Pfluger again showed what a fighter she is and the transplant was successful. The following five years passed by without any relapse and she has been in remission since the age of 21.
Amongst all those who helped and supported Pfluger through her treatments, there was the small matter of her donor in Puerto Rico. Carmen, a mother in her mid-40s, helpful and with a big heart. In 2017, Pfluger, her parents and brother flew to Puerto Rico in order to thank her. “For everyone, it was an intense meeting. I wanted to know who had saved me. For her, it was moving to see what had become of me and my parents always wished to thank her in person,” Pfluger added.
“It was nice to meet the person, to whom I owe my life. She had explained that she had some fear of flying, but still had to fly to Washington for the bone marrow donation. She is very religious and put her faith in doing something good, and that it would be worth getting on the flight.” That was certainly the case and Pfluger herself is a registered bone marrow donor. Football continues to play a big part in her life since she managed to beat cancer. “Football gave me my strength. I got to meet so many of my friends through football and was always happy when I could be with them on the pitch.”
Pfluger was a real talent from a young age and at just 18, she made the move to FC Bayern in 2011. She was initially a signing for the second team, but battled closer and closer to the Bundesliga side. She was captain of the reserves and celebrated winning the 2. Frauen-Bundesliga title in 2018-19. That season, she also made her debut for the senior squad in the 4:0 home win against MSV Duisburg. She continued to train with the first-team as well, even when she usually turned out for the reserves.
The competition in the Bundesliga squad was immense. Sara Däbritz, Sydney Lohmann, Viktoria Schnaderbeck and Vivianne Miedema were all part of the Bayern set-up. “To train with these players at such a level helped my development. But I wanted to regularly prove myself in the Bundesliga. That’s why I left Bayern after nine years and looked for a new challenge,” said the 27-year-old.
She found that at 1. FC Köln. “We have to go through 2. Bundesliga first of all, but I am convinced that we have the potential to be top of the table come the end of the season. Then, to establish ourselves in the Bundesliga.” Pfluger is a defensive midfielder, brings a calming presence to the game with her vision and can play a dangerous pass in behind the opposition defence. Her mental strength is another huge quality, not allowing herself to be knocked off course from setbacks. On or off the pitch, Pfluger has more than proved that.
created by Daniel Misterek
€ 49.99 *