World Cancer Day: Ben's Mum's story
Today is World Cancer Day. There are over 200 types of cancer, and according to Cancer Research UK, one in three people in Britain will get cancer in their lifetime. Every year in the UK hundreds of millions of pounds is spent on drugs to help prevent and treat cancer. Being physically active isn't just good for your heart - research has shown that it can also reduce the risk of developing breast, bowel or womb cancer. Keeping active could help to prevent around 3,400 cases of cancer every year in the UK.
The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) recognises that cancer can lead to life-changing impairments or that many disabled people will be affected by cancer during their lifetime. Here, Dawn Sowden from Sheffield discusses how her son Ben developed osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, aged eight. His left leg was amputated by his 10th birthday. Now Ben has a running blade. He is a keen footballer, boxer and sprinter, with a dream to compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
In early 2016, EFDS released ‘Supporting me to be active’ It shows that supporters like Dawn play a vital role in encouraging disabled people to be more active.
My son is 13 now, and when I watch him running or playing sport there are no words that will sum up just how proud I am of him. No words.
When he does something well, when he wins something, I always cry… and he’s always telling me to shut up. But I’m always telling Ben that there are days when we thought this might not happen. And he tells me not to be so stupid!
He loves his boxing, scoring goals in football, winning running races with Sheffield City Athletics.
He was a sporty person before he lost his leg through cancer, and he’s showing he’s still a sporty person now he’s an amputee.
I first learned Ben wasn’t well when he started telling me he didn’t want to play football. He was crying on the way to football training, asking not to go because his leg was hurting. That was really very unusual – I thought he either had a football injury or was suffering growing pains.
My husband David and I actually made a joke of it, telling him to get on the table and we’d amputate his leg. Little did we know it was cancer…
After a few weeks Ben was still crying over his painful leg, struggling to sleep. I work nights at the local hospital so thought I’d take him in.
The doctor took him through, examined and checked him and opted to take him for an x-ray. After they scanned him they called me over to show me the images. I looked, and the doctor asked me what I could see. And I could see cancer.
The doctor kept asking me questions, but I just felt like I was in a tunnel with questions being shouted at me from a long way away. All I could think was that my little boy was sitting on his own the other side of the wall in another room, and I needed my husband.
Ben looked at the surgeon and said: “Amputate my leg”
He had an operation to try to save his leg, but was getting worse and worse. My husband asked the surgeon about amputation, and he conceded that perhaps it would be for the best, but that it had to entirely be Ben’s decision.
This was in 2012, Paralympic year, and so we started showing Ben images of athletes with amputations. We started asking him what it would mean to him if he lost his leg.
Ben asked me if I would still love him if he had his leg amputated. But he never, ever told me his decision. We just went back into the hospital 10 days later and Ben looked at the surgeon and said: “Amputate my leg”.
Over those 10 days while Ben was making his decision I really, really struggled. I felt as though I had let him down. I gave birth to him with two legs. I felt I had let him down, and that it was my fault he had got cancer. We couldn’t do anything to save his leg – I had let him down.
But I was also proud of him, although it was so upsetting. It’s the sort of decision a parent should have to make. Again, I felt I’d let him down, because of course it had to be his decision and not mine.
These days, Ben plays sport alongside people with cerebral palsy, whose movement is very limited. But the smiles on the faces of every child in training are so obvious, because they are all loving what they are doing.
Disabled people should be fully involved in sport and physical activity. It’s just equal rights, isn’t it? No matter what has happened to you, sport should always deliver something for you, regardless of your ability. Anything is possible.