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GAA star Ronan Rocks who survived cancer plans marathon 24-hour charity match

By Adrian Rutherford

A former Derry Gaelic footballer who survived cancer is aiming to set a world record for the longest ever GAA game in aid of charity.

Ronan Rocks and players from across Ulster are taking part in the 24-hour marathon match.

Next month's challenge will raise funds for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland and the Michaela Foundation.

Cancer Focus is important to Ronan, who lives in Bellaghy with his wife Rhonda and children Callum (9), Cadhan (7), Charlie (6), and Marcie (2).

Back in 2004 his world was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

In the 12 years since, and after a full recovery, he has focused on giving something back to the community through fundraising efforts and raising awareness.

And next month Ronan will be taking part in the 24-hour match at the Tyrone GAA Centre at Garvaghey on January 7 and 8.

"I think this is a fantastic idea to raise funds for two well-known local charities," he said.

In 2004 Ronan noticed a lump on the side of his neck.

"It was maybe half the size of a mandarin orange - that's the best way I could describe it," he recalled. "One night in the house Rhonda noticed it but I just felt I had taken a knock and never thought much about it.

"At that time my team, Loup, had just won the Ulster Club title and we were out training three or four nights a week, so I thought I'd just got a knock.

"I let it go over Christmas but my GP told me it would do no harm to get it checked out.

"But being the typical man I suppose, I thought I was an indestructible Gaelic footballer and I did nothing about it."

After Loup lost the All-Ireland Club semi-final, Ronan finally went to his GP, who referred him for a biopsy.

"There were a couple of doctors there. They sat me and Rhonda down and told me I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes," he added. "I obviously didn't have a clue, but when they mentioned the word cancer, that's when the sledgehammer hit me."

Soon after Ronan had an operation to remove the lump, and a scan revealed more bad news - there were two lumps the size of two fists in his chest, which were treated with chemotherapy.

Ronan now says he has a new perspective on life.

"Cancer has changed me. Wee things that use to faze me don't anymore," he added.

"Your family come first and trivial things don't bother me."

- To donate see www.marathonmatch.everydayhero.com/uk/the-marathon-match

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