Twin brothers diagnosed with cancer within days of each other ‘will devote their lives to helping others’
“We will devote the rest of our lives to raising awareness and funds” - the brave words of twin brothers who were both diagnosed with the same form of cancer just 20 days apart.
The unique story of Ryan and Sean Collard has touched the hearts of the nation and now the pair hope to help others with testicular or pancreatic cancer.
On September 1, 2017, Ryan, then aged 23, was diagnosed with stage four testicular cancer - following a number of hospital visits after suffering severe back pain and blackouts.
He was rushed into emergency chemotherapy and unfortunately was unable to bank any sperm in case the treatment caused infertility.
His twin Sean, who still lives in Hetton where the pair grew up, rushed to London to be by his side with parents Lesley and Roy Collard.
But when the family didn’t think things could get any worse, 20 days later Sean was told he also had testicular cancer - after finding a lump and getting tested.
The non-identical twins stories couldn’t be more different and show the difference between early and late diagnosis - with Sean admitting he wouldn’t have got tested prior to Sean’s serious diagnosis.
“You feel like your life is coming crashing down,” said Ryan, who is now a primary school teacher in London. “You think it can’t get any worse and then days later, while you’re still trying to figure out what’s going on, the person you’re closest to in the world is diagnosed with the same thing. It was devastating.”
Sean’s cancer was caught at an early stage and meant at first he only needed one operation to remove the growth.
But Ryan went through eight months of chemotherapy and stem cell treatment before his final operation in July last year.
He is still suffering the side effects of treatment including hearing problems and he may never be able to father children.
Ryan said: “I had surgery and Sean came down and we thought this is it, this is the end of it all. This was a time to celebrate.
“He went home and within a week he called me. His cancer had spread and he now needed chemotherapy. That was the worst part of it all - it was like we were starting all over again.”
When Ryan should have been resting following his operation, he travelled back to Hetton to be by his brother side through chemotherapy - like Sean was for him.
Sean, who works in sales, said: “It was kind of like a blessing, as horrible as it was for both of us at least we had each other.
“I’m still up in Hetton and Ryan is down in London and even though we were at other end of the country we were still able to support each other.
“Ryan went through everything before me so he could tell me what to expect and give me advice even little things like taste changing and loads of effects of chemotherapy.
“It’s nice to have someone to talk to. Although you can talk to friends and family it’s hard to grasp what people are going through unless they’ve been there.”
Both twins in remission
Sean’s chemotherapy finished in October last year and both twins are now in remission and going for regular check ups to ensure the cancer hasn’t returned.
The pair, who attended Houghton Kepier Academy, are now doing all they can to raise awareness and encourage other men to get tested if anything doesn’t seem right.
In the last two years, they have raised thousands for charity and to support a close friend who was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Last month, they bared all on national television alongside nine celebrities on ITV’s The All New Month: Who bares wins.
The twins, who are now 25, were contacted out of the blue to take part in the show where they appear for the ‘big reveal’ alongside nine celebrities including Alexander Armstrong and Ashley Banjo and 14 other cancer survivors.
“It was daunting and I think honestly if I hadn’t been through what I have I never would do anything like that,” said Sean.
“It only lasted about 30 seconds but it’s something I’ll never forget.
“When you’ve had testicular cancer you’re having check ups all the time and doctors examining you.
“And the event is all about raising awareness and it’s something me and Ryan are both so passionate about.”
Now they are working with charity Trekstock and have set up Cancer Lads on social media offering support and advice to men going through or recovering from cancer.
“We don’t want to go through this and forget it ever happened, if we can help others going through the same thing then something good can come of it,” said Ryan, who studied at Liverpool University.
“Our story is so bizarre it doesn’t feel like it’s even ours - it’s like something you read about, it almost doesn’t seem real.
“But meeting the guys on the show and speaking to people going through the same thing really helped. Something I’ve explained to someone else over and over they just get it straight away.”
So far they’ve had a great response and received lots of support and messages from men as well as women, like partners and mothers, who want advice.
Cancer Lads currently has a Facebook and Instagram page dedicated to helping others.
Sean added: “Testicular cancer is rare in that you can check for it yourself. I want to encourage anyone who thinks there is something not quite right to go to the doctors.
“You may think it’s embarrassing but it could actually save your life.
“The rest of our lives we will be devoting ourselves to raising awareness and funds because we know just how important it is.”