World Mental Health Day – How football helped myeloma patient Mark through his hardest days

Mark Davies is teaming up with us as part of World Mental Health Day (October 10, 2023) to highlight the emotional toll of being diagnosed with myeloma and to share the things that have helped him cope.

The impact of myeloma

Mark, a lifelong Middlesbrough FC fan, was just 49 when he was diagnosed with smouldering myeloma – an early form of myeloma – back in 2016, after experiencing a strange sensation in his feet and ankles.

When the disease turned into myeloma four years later, Mark felt like the ground had opened up and swallowed him whole.

Through the rollercoaster of being diagnosed with myeloma, navigating treatment and his new reality, Middlesbrough FC was his “rock”, a much-needed comfort and distraction at a time of huge uncertainty and anxiety for him, his wife and their two sons.

While he is now thankfully in remission, coming to terms with the fact that his myeloma could come back at any point remains a daily struggle. He said:

“You’re always wondering, ‘When is it going to come back?’. ‘Is it going to come back?’. Just trying to live life in as full a way as possible with that uncertainty lurking in the background is really difficult. It brings a sort of guilt because I also know that I’m relatively lucky because it was found by accident before it had done any real serious damage.”

How football became Mark’s rock

“Football, and particularly, Middlesbrough, has been an absolute rock and such an important distraction and support, especially when I was having chemotherapy and was pretty much laid up for about a year. I grew up near Middlesbrough and I feel an intense sense of connection to the area. It’s been a thread that’s run through my life, always there for me, and something to focus on week to week – good, bad and indifferent. 

“The greatest source of support is of course family and friends. But football hasn’t half helped keep me going, particularly in last seven year since I was diagnosed with myeloma.”

Releasing his book

Two years on from his myeloma diagnosis, Mark is preparing to release a memoir-cum-love letter to Middlesbrough Football Club, aptly named A Love Letter to Football.

Candid and deeply moving, the book charts his life-changing diagnosis and the key role Middlesbrough has played in “lifting [him] to a different place” when he needed it most.

“I didn’t really expect it to turn into a book, but it’s brilliant that it has. In some ways it was extremely good therapy and it’s helped me come to terms with what I’ve been through – the treatment, the transplant, the recovery.

“I have this intense and fervent hope that it can be of some use to others going through a similar situation, partly to show that being told that you have an incurable cancer doesn’t mean that life’s over.”

Mark Davies’s A Love Letter to Football: From the Terraces to a Transplant and Back Again is now out.

Getting support from Myeloma UK

Over the years, Mark has relied on many of our services. Through us, he’s also met fellow patients and built a strong support network.

“Myeloma UK has been pivotal to my experience over the last seven years now, right from the very start. When you’re diagnosed with myeloma, you have no clue, generally speaking, what that is. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s skin cancer, isn’t it?’. And of course, as we know, it isn’t. I was probably in that place in 2016 when I first heard the word. Reaching out to Myeloma UK and getting the information and support I needed was absolutely fundamental.”

By bravely sharing his own struggles with mental health, he also hopes to draw attention to the lack of support available to people with blood cancer compared to other cancers.

According to the latest data, 86% of blood cancer patients are offered mental health support compared to 91% of people with prostate cancer and 92% of those with breast cancer.

Overall, people with blood cancer are less likely to get offered mental health support than people with any other type of cancer in the UK.

Living with myeloma can be emotionally exhausting, but we are here to help. If you need more information, practical advice or a little extra support, reach out to our team of Myeloma Information Specialists on our Infoline at 0800 980 3332 or use our Ask the Nurse email service. Or to speak to someone who knows what you’re going through, connect with others on our Discussion Forum or learn more about getting one-to-one support through our Peer Buddy service.

Find out more about the different ways we can help.

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