Meet the Co Antrim dad who fathered two sons after being diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer
February 4 is World Cancer Day and, to mark Cancer Research UK’s new campaign, Judith Cole talks to father-of-four Rob Humphreys (37), from Ballymoney, about how he went from a diagnosis of advanced cancer to training for a marathon
A Ballymoney man who survived stage four testicular cancer, and who has already unexpectedly had two children following cancer treatment, is looking forward to the birth of his fifth child in May.
Rob Humphreys (37), who works for TK Maxx, is also running his first marathon this year.
Back in 2013, following a diagnosis of stage four testicular cancer, which had spread to his stomach, chest and lungs, he was advised that cancer treatment may mean that he and his wife, Danielle, may not be able to have any more children naturally.
Rob, who is now celebrating five years clear of cancer, is sharing his story in support of Cancer Research UK's new campaign entitled Right Now.
He says: "December marked five years from when I was told my body was cancer-free, and it was great to hear the consultant say that everything is looking healthy.
"Perhaps the most unexpected result has been fathering two sons, Jacob, who is now three, and two-year-old Carter, after surviving testicular cancer, without using sperm I'd banked before my chemotherapy, as we had been advised it may not be possible for us to have more children naturally."
Now Jacob and Carter, along with big brothers Alfie (9), and Reuben (8), are looking forward to meeting their new baby brother or sister this year.
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Rob says: "The boys say they'd love a brother, so they can have a five-a-side, but we'll be delighted whether it's a boy or a girl.
"Between the new baby and running Belfast City Marathon for the first time, 2019 is set to be an exciting and action-packed year and I'm so grateful to be in great health to enjoy it all, because I know that for some people, the reality is much less positive."
The powerful and emotive Right Now TV ads show real patients who have had cancer treatments within the last few years, followed up by current home video showing how research has helped them get back to enjoying life with their loved ones.
In sharing stories of these individuals who are facing their own cancer journeys, the campaign - as the ad aims to show - how actions taken right now can make a real tangible difference in helping more people survive.
In a similar move, by reflecting on how he felt during treatment, in contrast with his plans for the year ahead, Rob hopes to draw attention to the impact that cancer research has had on his life. For Rob, who grew up in Portstewart with two brothers and two sisters, and works as loss prevention manager for TK Maxx, the true impact of the disease hit home when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in June 2013.
"Although I considered myself an exceptionally healthy person, I hadn't been well for a few weeks and had a dull ache in my testicle right through into my stomach. When the doctor examined me, he said he felt several lumps and described it as 'pretty messy in there'," Rob says.
"After an ultrasound on my testicles, I was admitted to hospital for a right orchidectomy (testicle removal) and a full CT body scan. After they completed a biopsy, the consultant sat myself and my wife, Danielle, down and told us I had cancer. I think I had mentally prepared myself for the news, but I just felt numb.
"I have never been as scared in my whole life as when I was admitted to Belfast City Hospital on August 12, 2013, to start my first chemotherapy cycle, but the nurses there are the nicest people I think I have ever met. They made me feel so relaxed and comfortable with the whole process and we even had a laugh during it.
"Throughout the nine weeks of chemotherapy, I had plenty of ups and downs, but thankfully more good days than bad, and my family were an amazing support. There were a few guys, including one who was only 17, who were also being treated, and I was devastated that another I got to know didn't survive cancer."
Rob revealed that a low point was during the second week of his treatment when he took a severe reaction to one of the drugs.
"My temperature plummeted, so I landed back in hospital and was kept in isolation for a week because my immune system was so poor," he says.
"Also, towards the end of my nine weeks of treatment was tough from a more psychological point of view as by that stage I'd just had enough - it was a long time and very draining.
"Having said that, I think I was one of the more fortunate ones, as some people have to go through more treatment than I did."
The effect of Rob's diagnosis and treatment was tough for his family, too, not least his wife, Danielle, who works part-time as a town planner.
"Looking back, I was quite selfish throughout my treatment," admits Rob.
"I kept thinking about myself and not about the wider family circle. It was all about me, which was unfair of me, and it was tough on Danielle, but at the time, you don't really think about that.
"When I was going through treatment, our two sons, Alfie and Reuben, were too young to understand what was going on. They just knew that dad was sick, which must have been hard for them. Danielle brought them to the hospital once, but we decided that once was enough - they had too many questions and we didn't want to distress them."
It was shortly after Rob's chemotherapy ended that the family received good news. Tests showed that he'd responded well to treatment and since then, he's had check-ups twice a year, with no setbacks, most recently just before Christmas.
Rob is a keen fundraiser for Cancer Research UK and has raised around £7,000 for the charity through various sporting challenges since his cancer diagnosis - money which goes to fund lifesaving research.
He adds: "The Right Now campaign captures the experience of so many families like mine. Cancer affects us all - not just the person diagnosed, but also their loved ones. I hope people are motivated to show their support and help even more people survive.
"My experience means I understand all too clearly why Cancer Research UK's work is so important, so now I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the power of research in beating the disease. That's why I'm urging people across Northern Ireland to take action, right now, and help support the charity's vital research."
Rob is now training for the Belfast City Marathon in May, urged on by his supportive family.
"I've tried to do a fundraising effort every year since my illness and this year it's the marathon," he says. "My older brother is a marathon veteran, so he's putting me through my paces and we're out training."
Cancer Research UK's Centre for Drug Development carried out some of the first clinical trials of etoposide, one of the drugs used in Rob's treatment. Today, the drug is mainly used to treat lung and testicular cancers, helping to save lives.
Andrea Kennedy, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Northern Ireland, says: "Our Right Now campaign aims to show both the realities of the disease and the positive impact research and improved treatments can have on a cancer patient's journey.
"Every hour, one person is diagnosed with cancer in Northern Ireland, meaning that more than 9,000 are diagnosed each year here. But thanks to research, more people are surviving the disease 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.
"Our campaign shows that we are working to beat cancer right now. But we can't do it alone. With the help of our supporters, Cancer Research UK scientists can find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease."
She adds: "There are so many ways for people to show their support here in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland - from joining a Race for Life event, to volunteering in our shops or simply wearing a Unity Band for World Cancer Day on February 4. We're calling on people in Northern Ireland to take action right now and make a real difference in the fight against the disease."
For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please tel: 0300 123 1022 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org
Help fight against cancer by raising funds for research
Research funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has played a role in developing eight of the world's top 10 cancer drugs.
CRUK's lifesaving work relies on the public's support. Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, the charity was able to spend over £2m last year in Northern Ireland on some of the UK's leading scientific and clinical research.
Cancer Research UK reports that, based on the average annual number of new cases of cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) diagnosed in Northern Ireland between 2013-2015:
Every hour, one person is diagnosed with cancer in Northern Ireland.
Every day, 25 people are diagnosed with cancer in Northern Ireland.
Every week, more than 170 people are diagnosed with cancer in Northern Ireland.
Every month, more than 760 people are diagnosed with cancer in Northern Ireland.
Every year, around 9,200 people are diagnosed with cancer in Northern Ireland.
Today, two in four people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK's ambition is to accelerate progress, so that by 2034, three in four people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years.
How you can take action:
Support Cancer Research UK by wearing a Unity Band for World Cancer Day on February 4.
Get more active by taking part in Walk All Over Cancer or Swimathon.
Volunteer at a local Cancer Research UK shop.
Share your cancer story on social media using the hashtag #CancerRightNow.