United We Stand: Sheffield Fans in the Fight Against Cancer

By Anabella Prodan

Full article available here.

This is a story that goes beyond the pitch and the roaring of crowds of Bramall Lane, because some Sheffield United fans are making noise in a different arena—the fight against cancer. Anabella Prodan explores how the Blades’ devoted Community Foundation changes lives with their cancer-fighting initiative, as in the match against cancer, these fans come out on top.

Among these, there is Tracey Watson, a 60-year-old from Sheffield and a lifelong fan of Sheffield United. Her life was drastically changed when she was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009. Despite having many healthy years after her recovery, she made a difficult choice delayed by the coronavirus pandemic: Tracey had a double mastectomy and reconstruction at the start of 2023, a preventative measure taken due to the long history of breast cancer in her family.

According to the NHS, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with 1 in 7 women being diagnosed in their lifetime. Tracey said: “After surgery, the results came back showing that I was carrying pre-cancer in my left breast. So, it was absolutely, 100% the correct decision.”

In her search for a sense of belonging, Tracey looked at several forms of support and discovered the Fans Fighting Cancer programme, an impactful initiative from Sheffield United Community Foundation also known as Moving Forward. This programme transcends the boundaries of football, offering fans a diverse range of social and physical activities aimed at improving their quality of life.

Tracey said: “This programme is not something that I’d engaged in or heard of, so originally, I was a bit reluctant. But as I’ve come along to groups, I started doing more and more. And I think that’s how a lot of us end up here. We tend to know somebody that’s had cancer, so we’ll say, ‘Oh, you know, my friend’s having surgery’ and we’ll bring them to the group. It’s a common theme, it’s a club.”

Tracey became visibly emotional when asked about her friends at the programme, but she kept her smile as she said: “I don’t think you can describe the programme into words. It’s a massive part of recovery, it’s a massive part of processing what’s happened to you, because I think a lot of people will probably tell you the same thing: you’re diagnosed; you have your treatment. That’s when healing process starts to begin.”

Yet a diagnosis can lead people to go into their own shell and adopt certain behaviours, such as not being able to talk to family and friends, or wanting to shield people from what they really feel. “That’s why this group’s so important. You can open up and say things that you probably would not want to say to your closest friends or family, because people here get it,” Tracey said. “So what’s unique about this group is that we’re all on a journey. We’re all on slightly different journeys, but we’ve got one thing in common: it’s a club that nobody wanted to be in, but that’s where we found ourselves.”

Body and spirit are deeply affected by cancer diagnoses. Coping mechanisms to deal with cancer are unique to each individual, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Like Tracey and Andrea, some decide to join cancer support groups to surround themselves with people who understand. In fact, the Foundation offers several social activities aimed at transforming this challenging experience into a safe haven. With this in mind, the first thing the Fans FC programme teaches is that throughout this process, you are not alone.

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