25 January 2019

Football coach sets up group to help other cancer patients get fighting fit

A man who survived lymphoma as a 20-year-old is using his football coaching skills to run exercise classes for other cancer patients to help them in their recovery.

Keith Ward, 34, of Arbourthorne, Sheffield, was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in 2005, and subsequently underwent successful treatment at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

As part of his recovery he was encouraged to stay physically active, and his experience as a patient, together with his involvement in football and voluntary work, inspired him to establish the Fans Fighting Cancer (Fans FC) group.

Initially based at Bramall Lane, the group used the attraction of the football club to encourage recovering patients to keep up an exercise routine.

Keith puts on sessions using football training drills that are adapted so anyone can take part, with one of the aims being able to progress to taking part in a game of walking football. He has also spoken to young cancer patients and shared his experience with them to try and help them through their own journey.

The group now has helped more than 40 participants and sessions are now delivered at the English Institute of Sport.

Keith was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma after finding a lump in his neck. At the time he had a six month old daughter, his partner (and now wife) had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and they had recently moved into a new house.

Keith said: “As a young couple it was a very tough time for us, but when I got my diagnosis my only reaction really was wanting to crack on with whatever needed to be done.

“I had nine months of chemotherapy, and I was fortunate enough that it was successful and it went into remission. I had check-ups with the haematology team for about five years before eventually they were confident it was gone and there was no need for me to come back.”

Keith said that he was told early on by his consultant that being physically active was one of the things he could do to help with his recovery.

Keith said this, together with his background in community work and football coaching, made him think about how he could help other people recovering from cancer in a safe and accessible way.

Through his role as the as the Health, Wellbeing and Cohesion Manager at the Sheffield United Community Foundation, he had the opportunity to set up Fans FC.

“I wanted to do something to help people get active in their recovery in a sustainable way. We thought we could use the pull of the football club to engage with men, because we all know men can be quote stubborn and not engage with health services.

“I adapted training routines I used to do to put on low impact sessions which you could work through at your own pace, that anyone can be part of, and hopefully keep people involved with physical activity. Some of the guys had never kicked a ball before in their life, but have got really engaged with it.”

Around 15 people attended the initial sessions, but many found they got so much out of it that they didn’t want it to finish.

So the group has continued to run, with sessions now also being delivered at the English Institute of Sport and attracting men aged from 17 to 80.

Keith said as well as the fitness side of the group, it also offered men an informal support network where they could discuss any issues or problems they were facing.

“I know from my own experience that having cancer can affect you in different ways,” he said.

“It took me ten years after my own treatment to set this group up because before then I was still finding it difficult to get back to normal in some ways, and I was trying to push it to the back of my mind.

“Things like seeing my dad, who went to hospital appointments with me, or seeing elderly people, reminded me of being in hospital wards and the other patients who had been there with me. It took me a long time to get over those feelings.

“There were also other issues to deal with when I was ill. I had a young family, I was the sole wage earner and bills were a worry.

“So the group also gives guys a chance to talk about any issues with each other, and I can tell them about my experience as well, and hopefully show them that you can recover from it and do well for yourself.

“Over time the guys who come do bond and find they can talk to each other and open up to each other, and it’s become a bit of a support network.

“We start off with a classroom session, where there is an opportunity to ask questions, discuss things or just get any worries off their chest, if they want to.

“The sessions have a positive effect on their fitness and mindset.”

Dr Josh Wright, Consultant Haematologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “It is great to hear that Keith is doing so well now, and using his experience to help others.

“Physical activity can play an important part in recovery from illness and the benefits should not be underestimated.

“We offer a post chemotherapy six week recovery plan for patients with blood cancers and lymphoma which is really appreciated by our patients, so it is fantastic that Keith is offering something in addition to that which can help people recover both physically and psychologically beyond their hospital treatment.

“I have the utmost respect for what he has achieved.”


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