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Former Welsh Rugby player opens up about living with cancer

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Former Welsh rugby international Matthew J Watkins who has been living with cancer for seven years shares his experiences of living with cancer, his recent diagnosis and why he is supporting World Cancer Day. Photo credit: Mathew Horwood

A former international rugby player for Wales, who lives with a rare cancer in his spine, is backing Cancer Research UK’s campaign for World Cancer Day.

Former Welsh international rugby player Matthew J Watkins, 41 who just last month received the news that the rare cancer he’s been living with has spread, is rallying everyone to support World Cancer Day by joining him in proudly wearing a Unity Band.

The brightly coloured wristbands are worn to show solidarity with other people diagnosed with cancer.

Matthew says:

“I’m supporting World Cancer Day because it affects us all really whether it’s you or a family member or friend. When I was first diagnosed with cancer back in 2013 it was predicted that 1 in 3 people would get cancer in their lifetime and now it’s 1 in 2, it’s unbelievable really.

“When I go for my treatment, I’m always taken aback by the amount of people living with cancer who are going for treatment, getting on with their lives too.

“So, I want everyone in Wales to show their support on World Cancer Day and help Cancer Research UK to tackle this disease. Just by wearing a Unity Band we can all make a real difference to people with cancer.”

Matthew who lives in Blackwood was first diagnosed with cancer in 2013 at the age of 34 when it was discovered in his pelvis, initially he had thought the pain was down to an old rugby injury. He says of his diagnosis: “Initially I was shocked, I’d played rugby for so many years, I just thought the pain was a result of that”

In 2018, Matthew discovered the cancer had spread to his spine and soon had pioneering treatment in London to target the cancer. He continues to have radiotherapy treatment on the affected areas of his body at the Velindre hospital in Cardiff, who he has helped to raise thousands of pounds for with two gruelling bike rides across America.

Unfortunately, last month, the cancer, which grows along the bone, has now been discovered in his head between the brain and skull. He is working with specialists at the Velindre Hospital to understand what the next steps are for his treatment.

“Recently the radiotherapy has made me feel tired and I’ve had to rest a lot more than I’d like to which definitely impacts me mentally, but I stay positive because I’ve lived with cancer for seven years now and my family and friends keep me going”

The Unity Band is available in three different colours – pink, navy and blue. It can be worn in memory of a loved one, to celebrate people who’ve overcome cancer or in support of those going through treatment.

Every day, around 53 people are diagnosed with the disease in Wales. *

By making a donation for a Unity Band, people across Wales will be raising money for life-saving research which will help give people, like Matthew, more precious time with their loved ones.

Matthew is no stranger to fundraising challenges. He said:

“I’ve already achieved so much since my diagnosis including cycling from Boston to New York and San Francisco to Los Angeles for the Velindre. We’ve now raised over £250,000 and I’m really proud of that”

And the rugby community continue to show their support. Matthew added: “Once you’ve all played rugby together, you’re friends for life, when I meet with old team mates, it’s like we’ve never been away”

World Cancer Day is an international movement, uniting people around the world on 4 February to beat cancer.

In the UK, one in two people will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime**.

The good news is, thanks to research, more people are surviving than ever before. Survival has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress.

But there is still so much more work to do. That’s why this World Cancer Day, the charity is calling on everyone to raise money to help accelerate progress and save more lives.

Cassandra Miles, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Wales, said: “We are very grateful to Matthew for his support and showing how important it is for everyone to wear a Unity Band on World Cancer Day.

“Our research has played a role in developing 8 of the world’s top 10 cancer drugs and we’re working every day to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. But we can’t do it alone.

“By making a donation of just £2 for a Unity Band, people in Wales will be funding world-class research to help more people, like Matthew, survive. Together, we will beat cancer.”

To get a Unity Band and make a donation, visit your local Cancer Research UK shop or go online at cruk.org/worldcancerday.

Rhys Gregory
Editor of Wales247.co.uk

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