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Soccer tourney helps ex-coach

Cancer

Gabriel Lalli's body has broken down. His eyesight has faded. He isn't the man he was two years ago. But that's with regard to his physical status.

Cancer can break down anyone, yet it hasn't wilted his fighting spirit.

Lalli, a Newport Beach resident, was active in running, rugby and soccer before being diagnosed with cancer in 2010. Now all of his focus has been turned toward beating the disease. Adversity hasn't just afflicted his health.

Lalli said the bank mortgage company he worked for ended his employment and his income is now from disability checks.

The cancer has taken a toll on Lalli's body, but he wants to remain positive for his family.

"People ask me," Lalli said. "'How are you able to do it? You lost your sight and your back was broken.' I have no choice. I have a beautiful wife and great kids I have to do it for them. They are the ones that keep me going. I have to try to get cured."

Some of Lalli's many friends have put together a soccer tournament to raise money for Lalli.

Hosane Zama, a Costa Mesa resident, and his company Zama Sports, along with the Newport Beach Women's Soccer Assn. will have a seven-on-seven soccer tournament Aug. 19 at Huntington Beach Sports Complex.

The cost for each team is $200. All the money will go to Lalli and his family.

Teams are allowed a maximum 12 players. Those interested in registering or donating can call (714) 432-9262 or visit http://www.facebook.com/gabefund.

Lalli was a coach in the Newport Beach Women's Soccer Assn.

Zama remembers a man who gave so much of himself to the teams and the game.

"This breaks my heart to see him go through this," Zama said. "He's such a great man with a great family. He's the type of person who would help you in the middle of the night if you were on the side of the road with a flat tire."

Lalli, 44, originally from Argentina, dealt with strong headaches and pain in his hip after some routine training with his Nike running group near Fashion Island. The headaches and hip pain were rare for Lalli, who had been in great health and it concerned his wife, Roxana.

She took him to a doctor for some tests. But nothing could be found after a few visits, Lalli said. It wasn't until a tissue sample revealed that Lalli had cancer in his central nervous system.

He endured 17 rounds of chemotherapy and a four-month stay in the hospital. Lalli's eyesight faded because of the cancer. He cannot see most shapes and colors, he said.

Last year, there were some happy times, as Lalli's cancer was in remission. But this past February, Lalli got up out of bed one morning and struggled to stand on his legs.

He was rushed to the emergency room and it was revealed there was a tumor in his back that had crushed a vertebra. After more rounds of chemotherapy, doctors wanted to perform an autonomous bone marrow transplant. But more testing revealed a tumor in each kidney and two tumors in his brain, he said.

Lalli said he had to go through more chemotherapy to shrink the tumors. Now he's closer to being able to receive the bone marrow procedure. He began the process this week, which included a catheter inserted into his chest and stem cell collection. He could be in the hospital for up to six weeks, so he is not expected to attend the tournament.

"It's a long and tough road, but we have to do it," Lalli said. "We have to keep the faith. We are hoping for a good future."

Lalli knows that future involves his sons, Alexander, 6, and Maximilian, 4. Alexander has been playing soccer and Maximilian has started to also play AYSO.

"I'm excited about that," Lalli said.

Lalli said he is grateful for his friends and the fundraiser that Zama and his staff have put together. Lalli is also thankful for his wife of 10 years.

"She's an angel," Lalli said of his wife. "If she wasn't around I wouldn't be around. She has fought the doctors to get me the best treatment I can. She has really fought for me. I am more in love with her than ever. She is a sweetheart. She has really held the family together. She is amazing. I can't put in words what she does and what she means."

Lalli said his wife's mother has come from Argentina to stay with the family and help. He said he is happy to be with his family. But he is aware of the challenges ahead.

He said his faith has also helped him.

"It is in the hands of God," Lalli said. "I think he is getting me through the tunnel and I can see the light on the other side. I have to keep a positive attitude and hopefully get cured."

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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