WHEN Blackpool FC’s squad learnt popular midfielder Keith Southern had undergone an operation to remove a tumour, they were stunned.
After all, it’s only two weeks since Southern was tearing around the football pitch – now, the 30-year-old is facing an anxious wait to find out if he has testicular cancer.
It’s perhaps not a situation that fit, healthy footballers expect to find themselves in, but it’s one former Oldham Athletic player Scott McNiven can identify with.
The 33-year-old, from St Annes, was in the changing rooms after a match seven years ago when he received the news his club doctor had found a lump.
Scott, who was playing for Mansfield Town at the time, said: “I first got the news after a game on a Saturday. I was just in a state of shock. The club doctor said you need to go to a specialist and he booked me in urgently.
“I went to the specialist on the Tuesday, had the ultrasound and he confirmed it was a tumour.
“They said they needed to get it out and the specialist explained the likelihood of dying was slim, but they needed to operate and get it out to see what stage it was at.
“The way the specialist explained it to me really made me calm, but at the same time it was scary. I was away from home, quite young with no family and only a girlfriend to rely on – and she was brilliant.”
Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men aged between 15 and 44, and affects around 2,000 men a year in the UK.
But despite this, Scott admitted hearing the word “cancer” was a bolt from the blue – and if it hadn’t been for his now-wife Adele, he would never have had his testicles checked out.
He said: “I was fortunate enough not to have any symptoms, but my wife nagged me enough to go to the doctor.
“I wasn’t ill and I thought cancer was something where you brought up blood, had aches and some sort of crazy symptoms.
“I didn’t know anything about cancer, I thought it would never happen to me. But it when it comes along it does hit you.
“You can be the healthiest person in the world but you need to check out any lumps, it’s vitally important you’re aware of how little this disease is, but what a killer it can be.
“I had two lumps on each testicle. One was a cyst, and one had overtaken the whole testicle and it was cancer. Because the other testicle felt similar I just thought it was the shape of my testicles and it was normal, but evidently it wasn’t.
“Only the persistence of my wife made me remember to ask the club doctor and that saved my life.”
The operation wasn’t the end of Scott’s journey, and he had to undergo radiotherapy to make sure all traces of cancer were eradicated.
Scott, who now coaches Blackpool FC’s under-11 team, said: “I had to undergo four weeks of radiotherapy. Doctors spotted a shadow on my lymph nodes on my stomach and they just wanted to blast it to make sure all the cancer cells were killed.
“I’m still going for regular check-ups, and they’ve just gone down to annually now.
“Luckily everything has been OK and I’m back as fit as I can be. It’s not come back and hopefully it will stay away.”
Since his battle with cancer, Scott has been lucky enough to welcome two-year-old daughter Jessica to his family, something he wasn’t sure would be possible.
And he now does his best to spread the word about testicular cancer with men’s cancer charity Everyman – encouraging everyone to make sure they check themselves out. Key signs to look out for with testicular cancer are a lump in either testicle, any enlargement of the testicles, a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum or an ache in the abdomen or groin.
Southern is now waiting for the results of a biopsy, which will reveal whether or not his tumour was benign. It’s hoped he will return to training in the New Year.
Scott added: “Hopefully, he has caught it in time and he is going to be fine. I wish him all the best.”