'Life after cancer has been the hardest part' - twins who were diagnosed with testicular cancer aged 23 discuss fertility and recovery
‘Life after cancer has been the hardest part’ says primary school teacher as he comes to terms with the agonising reality that he may never be able to biologically father his own children.
Twins Ryan and Sean Collard, who are from Hetton, were diagnosed with testicular cancer in September 2017 just 20 days apart – but their stories couldn’t be more different because of the different stages they were diagnosed at.
Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, the 25-year-old twins have shared their experiences and dedicated their lives to helping others – and are now young ambassadors for cancer charity Trekstock and have set up their own organisation, Cancer Lads.
Now they are appealing for a way to get in touch with fellow Sunderland AFC fan, and Love Island star, Chris Hughes – who is fronting a new BBC Three documentary alongside his older brother on testicular cancer, called Me, My Brother and Our Balls.
Chris and his brother Ben, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer, are both facing problems with fertility.
The Hetton twins are in the same boat – and hope they may be able to share experiences and promote their important message.
Ryan, who is a primary school teacher in London, is coming to terms with the devastating news he is unlikely to ever biologically father his children.
Ryan was diagnosed with stage four cancer and was immediately rushed into chemotherapy which meant he was never able to bank sperm.
He’s now been put in touch with a fertility specialist and numerous tests have been carried out – although none of them are yet to have a positive outcome.
His next option is surgery.
“In terms of fertility it’s difficult, I’m a primary school teacher and would love to have kids of my own,” said Ryan.
“It’s devastating that it probably won’t happen, it’s the thing that gets me down the most.
“My body isn’t the same, you just become a completely different person.
“You’ve got no choice but to adapt to it. It’s not easy but I have a great family and a great partner.
“Because they’re offering me everything that is physically possible in terms of fertility it’s given me a little ounce of hope.
“I know deep down I probably won’t end up with the news I want but for now I’m trying to keep fairly positive.”
While his non-identical twin Sean, who was diagnosed at a much early stage, has been told that there’s a 70% chance his fertility will return – but for now it’s a waiting game.
“I’m infertile at the moment but hopefully in the next couple of years that will change,” said the sales worker, who still lives in the North East.
“If not I do have the option of IVF as I was able to bank sperm. It’s a difficult process and I know Ryan is finding it really hard.
“We’ve always tried to support each other through everything.”
The twins, who attended Houghton Kepier Academy, took to the Cancer Lads social media pages, which have hundreds of followers, to advertise Chris Hughes’ upcoming BBC3 documentary – with the hope someone may be able to put them in touch.
Ryan said: “I’d seen that he was doing a programme called Me, My Brother and Our Balls. We were both diagnosed with testicular cancer as was his brother.
“We’re Sunderland lads and Chris is a Sunderland AFC fan – so that might sway him. I though it would be really good to be able to speak to connect with them.
“It would be great to see if there was anyway we could help them and obviously having the backing of someone who is in the public eye like Chris would really help us.
“Sometimes it’s nice to talk to people that aren’t in celebrity circles – just normal people going through the same thing.”
Since setting up Cancer Lads, the twins have been doing all they can to support others.
Now Sean is looking to go into the Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle, to support other young people throughout their cancer journeys.
About Cancer Lads, Sean said: “We’re getting really good feedback and it’s slowly growing. Now we’re working with Trekstock we’re able to build further alongside the charity as ambassadors and it puts us in touch with new people.
“We’re targeted towards men but we get a lot of women, who are partners or family members, get in touch.
“It's about getting a conversation going and letting people know there’s support and people to talk to out there that have been in the same position.
“Our aim is to one day have a big enough community that people will be able to arrange their own meets throughout the country – whether it’s to enjoy a game of football or go to the pub for a pint. It’s about getting men to talk to one another.”
Ryan added: “We are both happy in what we are doing with Cancer Lads and Trekstock, it’s a major thing in terms of our own recovery.
“Mental health has been a big thing for both of us and dealing with life after cancer has been by far the hardest part.
“Having Cancer Lads helps a lot. Knowing that we’re able to help people has made the whole process and experience a lot easier.”
Follow their journeys on Facebook and Instagram at Cancer_Lads.