BEING young, healthy and an active sportsman, the last thing Matt Bird expected was to be told he had cancer – but that was the shock news that awaited the 31-year-old Barton rugby club captain in the run up to Christmas.
Matt was diagnosed with testicular cancer and was forced to put his life, his career and the sport he loves on hold while he underwent treatment. With the loving support of his partner Jane and the skills of staff at Burton’s Queen’s Hospital he has now been told that’s it’s 99.9 per cent certain he’s beaten the disease.
He’s already back at work (“I was getting bored,” he says) and is planning a return to the ruby arena in February.
“If they will have me,” he laughs. “They have been doing pretty well without me.”
But he knows that his story might have had a less happy outcome and now he’s aiming to raise awareness of the perils of testicular cancer and the need for men to get an early diagnosis. He’s also busy raising funds to help the fight against cancer by joining a national campaign and giving up alcohol for the month of January.
He says: “If doctors can catch testicular cancer at two to six weeks they are fairly confident. So it’s important people don’t delay in seeking help.”
It’s always a shock to be told you have cancer but even more so when you are as young and as fit as Matt.
He says: “I have played sports since I was 10 and have trained three times a week – I have no asthma, no allergies, I don’t smoke.
“So it was the last thing I was expecting and then it came really fast, just like a whirlwind.”
Matt first noticed a difference in his right testicle but left it a couple of weeks before going to a GP.
He said: “I thought it could be a rugby injury, but there was no pain. When I did go to my GP, two hours later I was having an ultra sound at the hospital and that afternoon I was on the ward with a diagnosis.”
Matt had an operation to remove the tumour on December 12 and on January 9 he was told that it looks as certain as they can be that he’s now in the clear.
“It’s only routine scans now for the next three to five years as a precaution,” he says.
“Mine was the least aggressive form of cancer but in the three weeks it took me to have an operation, the tumour had already grown to over two inches. If I hadn’t have gone that quickly I might not be so lucky. They told me I was an above average response for a male. Men are quite ignorant when it comes to checking themselves and slow in seeking help. It’s hard to say what you look for but, to be honest, it was pretty obvious to me.
“Like a lot of men, I don’t use the doctor’s really. I have had broken fingers, nose and ribs and I avoid going at all costs. I’m not sure what sparked me to go this time but it was a good job I did.”
Matt has had to put the ruby on hold and watch the lads battle it out in Midlands 4 West (South) without him.
“I am aiming to be back in the middle of February,” he says. “We are looking good in the league and are a strong squad. We are doing well. A bit too well really, they might make me stay away.”
Matt says he has had brilliant support from the rugby club, as well as his work colleagues at Burton office furniture suppliers ORS and partner Jane.
“Work have been great as I was signed off for six weeks and even now I can’t do any heavy lifting.
“Jane’s been there for every blood test and appointment. It was a big shock for her as well and a great relief when we got the good news. She has been great.”
Matt also wants to praise the staff at Queen’s Hospital.
“They have had a bad press but the oncology department and the new acute assessment centre gave me the best chance of survival. Even when it was bad news I still felt comfortable, which is why I never panicked. Even though it was the worst news you can ever get, I still felt in control.”
Matt’s experiences have shown him just how randomly cancer can strike and he was grateful for all the help he has received.
He says: “I lent on a close friend, Ben Murphy, who developed bone cancer and lost a leg. As soon as I was diagnosed he was there straight away and has been an inspiration. I have also used Macmillan quite a bit and have been in touch with Cancer Research as I’m doing the Dryathon for them.”
The Dryathon campaign challenges people to give up alcohol for the first month of the year and to raise funds for Cancer Research at the same time.
“I tried it half-heartedly last year and as a rugby player it was quite tough! But I’m doing it properly this time. I set a target of £200 but I have already nearly reached £400 and there’s still plenty of time to go. A few of my friends have said they won’t sponsor me until the 31st in case I don’t do it!”
Matt has raised funds for charity before but says this has spurred him on to do more and to help Cancer Research.
He says: “Around 80 per cent of people operated on for testicular cancer would have needed chemo 10 years ago and now it’s down to 30 per cent, just because of advances that have been made.
“I have also been put onto a new trial at the hospital that’s trying to determine how many return visits you need. The standard at present is seven scans over three years but they involve radiation and there are risks. So this will decide what’s best.
“It is good to give something back. You go through life trying not to think about these kind of things. But now I have faced it, it has hit home. So anything I can do to help awareness, research and fund-raising I’m going to do now.”
To help Matt raise cash for Cancer Research go to www.justgiving.com/Matt-Bird-dryathlete
According to Macmillan Cancer Support:
Each year in the UK, around 2,100 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Incidence rates of testicular cancer are increasing worldwide in white men.
It usually affects young or middle-aged men.
Treatment for testicular cancer is very effective and nearly all men are cured if they are diagnosed early.
For information, go to www.macmillan.org.uk