“Football first helped save my life.”
At 24, that was actually true for Conor, who had moved to London and was interning at CNN London.
A big guy – at 6’5″ football coaches always used to play him as a striker (“too big to be a winger, not strong enough to be a centre-back”) – who turned kept in shape, Conor didn’t see himself as someone at risk for something like cancer, until things changed.
“I started noticing a little pain in my rib,” he says. FourFourTwo.
“I delayed going to the hospital because I thought maybe it was just a twisted muscle from the gym.”
It wasn’t until he was playing in a professional football game that he decided to get it checked out.
“I found myself sandwiched between two players. I just felt this incredible feeling of crushing pain, only on my right side. I was very out of breath and thought ‘Something is up there’.
“Obviously cancer never crossed my mind. I thought maybe I had broken a rib.
“I was hobbling around trying to catch my breath. But the pain went away and I continued to play the match.
Even after this incident at the football game, like many men, Conor refrained from seeking medical advice, it took him another month before going to the hospital for an X-ray, a decision that turned out to be crucial. “My doctor called to tell me that I needed urgent respiratory care because I have a giant mass on my lung.
“The nurses were in disbelief that I was walking around with such a big lump in my chest. It turned out to be Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, and I had a tumor the size of a melon.
“I remember saying to my doctor, ‘Can anyone survive such a big tumor in the chest?’ He shrugged and joked, “I’ve seen bigger.”
Fortunately, Conor survived it – going into chemotherapy almost immediately.
“I started treatment. I was diagnosed on May 18 and was in chemo on June 1, 10 days before my 25th birthday. So I was still very young.
“I had six rounds of very intensive chemo called VIDE. Then I had radiotherapy to my chest, and then on March 1 of the following year they were able to excise my tumor from my chest.
The protective layer around the lungs had prevented the tumor from taking hold, despite its size. Conor explains that he “only had to lose a very small part of my lung” during the heavy operation.
But it was the speed of this process that shocked him and made him realize that men need to get better at being more honest about their health and taking action.
From there it was vital to find out more and Conor turned to Macmillan Cancer Support for help.
Many men don’t think Macmillan is relevant to them or feel ‘too proud’ to ask for help, but Macmillan’s cancer information and support specialists offer a listening ear for everyone. and can talk about anything that matters to you.
It was the touchy subject of money that led Conor to make his first call to the Macmillan Helpline, which is a free, confidential hotline open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., for helping people with cancer with any question, big or small. .
“I called the helpline first to talk about finances, which some people find difficult to talk about while on treatment. I just wanted to know what was available to me.
“I couldn’t believe I had access to financial aid. I didn’t have money problems, but I was a young man just starting his career, about to climb the professional ladder, and then I got cancer. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the financial aid available to me, which the interlocutors told me about and explained to me how I could apply.
“Macmillan also has an excellent information center at University College Hospital in London, where I was treated.
“I got to know the nurses who worked there very well and felt I could talk to them about how I felt emotionally.” For Conor, that meant things like his loss of appetite and his hair loss.
“My appetite has definitely been affected. Nothing tastes the same under chemo, especially strong chemo, so I started losing weight,” he says.
“Hair loss is a big issue that they don’t discuss enough with men when you’re young. The chemo completely destroyed my hair. I had healthy, full hair with no signs of premature baldness, no signs of young adult hair loss. The chemo just devastated him. They say “Don’t worry, you will lose your hair, but it will grow back”. Mine had a visible bald spot on the top of my head, which has only grown back with over a third of its volume lost.
“It was disappointing. I was alive, of course. But you can be grateful to be alive and still wish you had your hair…”
Opening up about cancer – whether it’s treatment, side effects, social rights or financial advice – should never feel like a burden, and Macmillan encourages men to get the crucial support they need. desperately need.
For Conor, part of this new life was getting regular scans of his chest – this is cancer that often returns to the lung or the original diagnosis site.
In the meantime, he ran the London Marathon in October 2021. But, like the football game, bad news followed. “Unfortunately the cancer came back and it metastasized. At the moment I am back in treatment.
“Turns out I ran the London Marathon with two big tumors in my lower back. We did not know. I ran it in about five and a half hours, but for me it was just about doing it.
Although Conor struggled with back pain, it once again showed how difficult it can be to take the first steps to recognize that something was wrong. For young men, it can be much easier to look at the things you can do and ignore the struggles and discomfort that arise when your body tries to tell you that you’re not okay.
This attitude can persist after diagnosis, too: in fact, in 2020, only 31% of calls to the Macmillan Support Line were from men. The helpline can help people find the help they need, whether it’s for health issues, mental health, side effects or money, as long as they ask for it. . The Macmillan Cancer Support website also has information on cancer types, treatments and impacts and can direct people to the support that is right for them.
“Young guys tend to think of themselves as invincible,” Conor says. “Young men tend to ignore pain.
“Not only are they less likely to talk about how they’re feeling, they’re less likely to feel pain, think it’s something serious, and go get it checked out. There is nothing wrong with trusting your instincts. Don’t leave something six months hoping it will go away, get it checked out as soon as possible. You never know, it might just save your life.
It’s not easy to talk about cancer, but it might help. Macmillan is on the phone and online to provide support. Call 0808 808 00 00 or visit macmillan.org.uk (opens in a new tab) and ask anything. For those who would prefer to talk online, there is also the Macmillan Online Community (opens in a new tab) – join and chat anonymously.