Dad of Liverpool star Jordan Henderson' and former Sunderland AFC player Maurice Hepworth among cancer survivors urging people to 'get checked out early' as bus rolls into city
The Cancer Bus-ting tour rolled into Keel Square this week as part of a week long initiative which will also see it visit Barnsley, Blackburn and North East London.
Onboard were cancer survivors, doctors and nurses all with the same message; “get checked out if you have any symptoms you are worried about”.
For Brian Henderson, whose son Jordan Henderson played 71 times for Sunderland AFC, getting an early diagnosis and rapid treatment really was the difference between life and death.
Brian, 68, said: “I was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2013 which had also spread to my tongue and lymph glands. I found a lump on my throat which was about the size of a thumbnail. I have a history of getting cysts which have been removed and so I thought it may be another one.
"I went straight to the doctor who said he didn’t think it was a cyst as it was more connected to my glands. I had camera down and that is when I was told I had cancer.
"I was operated on in January 2014 at Sunderland Royal Hospital where they removed the lump along with 500 lymph glands from my neck. This was then followed by three months of radiotherapy.”
Fortunately for Brian, his treatment was a success, but not everyone has the same positive outcome.
He added: “I was lucky in that I got diagnosed early. Between seeing my GP and getting diagnosed was 10 days. In the ward I was on there were six of us, all with the same type of cancer.
"Three of us survived. If I had not been diagnosed early then the outcome could have been very different. I think some men put off going to the doctors to get checked out, but my message to anyone who has found a lump or noticed something they are unsure of is to make an appointment with your GP and get it checked out.”
Brian was diagnosed as being cancer free at the end of 2014, although he still has to go for a check-up every four months.
Along with son Jordan, who is an NHS ambassador, Brian has raised tens of thousands of pounds to support the diagnosis and treatment of cancer including raffling off and auctioning Jordan’s shirts to help buy a new state-of-the-art diagnostic machine for the department at Sunderland Royal which provided his life-saving treatment.
Another cancer survivor who was on hand to distribute leaflets and speak with people who may be concerned was former Sunderland AFC player Maurice Hepworth, who made two first-team appearances at left back in 1971 before suffering a life threatening stomach injury in a reserve match the following season.
Maurice, 69, who returned from injury to resume his professional career in South Africa with Arcadia Shepherds, said: “In 2018 I was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer. There was low pressure when I was gong for a wee and I just knew something wasn’t quite right with my body.
"The consultant basically said if he didn’t remove my prostate then I was going to die.”
Maurice underwent a radical prostatectomy and although he is not cancer free, he is on medication which is now able to control it.
He said: “Fortunately the cancer had not spread to my lymph glands. It was seven weeks between my diagnosis and the operation and getting diagnosed in time has saved my life.
"My wife convinced me to go to the doctors and without her I’m not sure if I would here. Men can be embarrassed about going to get their prostate checked but this type of cancer is the biggest killer in men.
"If you notice something different then don’t put it off. Go and get checked out.”
The NHS bus is emblazoned with the message ‘65 people on this 78 seat bus would survive cancer if caught at the earliest stage’.
It’s a message Life Kitchen founder and celebrity chef Ryan Riley is keen to endorse.
Ryan, 29, who grew up in Washington, said: “My mother Krista died at the age of 47 when I was just 18. She was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and there were no presentable symptoms until it was too late.
"She didn’t really know what signs to look out for and if she had been diagnosed earlier then she may have survived or lived longer. If people notice anything different then don’t put it off. It’s probably nothing serious but go to your GP to get checked out.”
Sunderland was chosen as a location for the Cancer Bus-ting tour due to the higher than average rates of prevalence of the disease and late diagnosis with patients often not going to their GP until it’s too late.
Assistant Director of Nursing and Lead Cancer Clinician at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Melanie Robertson, said: “83% of cancers can be treated and cured if caught at an early stage. Unfortunately in Sunderland 50% are diagnosed at a stage where it’s too late.
"If anything changes or just doesn’t feel right – certainly if it lasts for more than three weeks – then make an appointment with your GP. Worrying about cancer is also harmful to people’s mental health and in most cases getting checked out allows us to rule out cancer.
"If you are not sure of what symptoms to look out for then the NHS website is a great place to look.”