It's In The Bag are raising awareness of testicular cancer with the help of the GFA.
A South West charity is targeting local footballers in an all-out effort to ram home the message that testicular cancer’s a potential killer that CAN be tackled.
Aided by a “fantastic” £2,000 donation by the Gloucestershire FA, campaigners from It’s in the Bag, which was set up a few years ago to offer specialist advice and support to people who have contracted testicular cancer, has the region’s football clubs in its sights in an attempt to raise awareness about the disease.
One former player, Jon Baker, had been an enthusiastic striker with Bristol Telephones, Thornbury Town and Alveston Rangers among other local sides when one day, quite by chance, his 18-month-old child saved his life.
Brislington-born Jon, now 46 and living in Thornbury, explained: “About five years ago I was playing with our baby boy when he unwittingly hit me in the groin area. The effect on me was a strange one, it didn’t feel quite right, so I went to the doctor’s with what I described as ‘a bit of an ache and a hard lump on one testicle’ and he sent me to hospital to get it checked out.
“An ultrasound and CAT scan revealed I had testicular cancer which had spread to one of my lungs. Perhaps because I was a bit older I was able to manage the shock quite well, and thankfully the surgery to remove the tumour all went to plan.
“That said it was a tough time; the follow-up chemotherapy is hard; it hits you for six, but I have a fantastic wife, family and friends and superb and understanding employers, and you need to stay optimistic.”
The It’s in the Bag charity was only in its formative stages when it was drawn to Jon’s attention at the time. He is delighted it was and he is now an active fundraiser and campaigner, as part of what he labels a ‘small but very devoted team’.
“Our chairman Sue Brand is a co-founder with Rob Buy and Sue’s a specialist testicular nurse at Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre (BHOC),” Jon said. “Sue considered back then that while BHOC was good at treating testicular cancer, more care and after-support was needed for people who had experienced it.
“We have a small network of volunteers with experience of the disease which provides support to help other men overcome it too.
“There’s a 96 per cent cure rate for the cancer but it’s best to catch it early, when treatments can be at their most effective.”
Fuelled by the Gloucestershire FA (GFA) backing, and that of many other welcome hand-outs, It’s in the Bag is now embarking upon a major awareness campaign which it’s calling ‘Match Fit’.
Jon stressed: “Adult footballers are typically aged 20 to 40, an age group that is at highest risk of contracting testicular cancer. So with the help of organisations like the GFA we’re producing and distributing a series of posters, cards and merchandise around local football clubs urging players to take notice.
“It’s not something you want to have to think about but 2,100 men are diagnosed each year with the disease and around 70 of those men die from it.
“Our message is perfectly simple – check your ‘balls’ once a month and if you find something unusual, go and see your GP immediately. If you check yourself frequently you’ll soon establish what ‘normal’ is, meaning anything which suddenly feels different will hit you straight away.
“As a group we’re part of the larger Above and Beyond charity. We’re quite small and still getting off the ground. But we’re slowly but surely getting there and the well-known Bristol footballer Louis Carey is our patron, and he’s been great. We had a bucket collection at Ashton Gate recently and raised around £400.
“The £2,000 we received from the GFA is a fantastic amount and they have been extremely helpful, not least in allowing us to utilise their contacts to get the message out there. I can’t thank them enough for their generous support.”
GFA operations manager Chris Lucker said: “I once played alongside Jon for Alveston Rangers and it’s an awful thing that happened to him, getting testicular cancer, just as it is for anyone who has experienced it.
“As an organisation we decided a couple of years ago to make a one-lump-sum donation each year to a worthy cause, which we did 12 months ago by donating to the Great Western Air Ambulance service.
“They are both very worthwhile causes and we hope to be able to help many more such charities in the years to come.”
Anyone wishing to know more about It’s in the Bag can visit its website at www.itsinthebag.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org