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Footballer: Cancer made me appreciate life

Cancer survivor Richard Caisey

Richard Caisey is a self-confessed sports nut.

Football, cricket, softball — you name it, he’s played it.

It all came to a standstill when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 at age 23.

“One day I was playing cricket in the Evening League and I was getting breathless running up and down the crease,” said Mr Caisey, who shared his story to bring awareness to World Cancer Day observances tomorrow. “That evening, I went home and told my mother. She took me to the hospital.”

An X-ray found a large mass in his chest that had caused his right lung to collapse. Doctors said it was liposarcoma, a rare cancer that attacks fat cells.

“It was on the outside of my right lung and on the inside of my ribs,” he said. “It was a soft tissue tumour and was growing around my other organs.

“My chances of getting it were one in a million. My attitude was let’s get this dealt with so I can get back to playing sports.”

Surgeons at Johns Hopkins Hospital removed the basketball-sized tumour. They also determined he had Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, a genetic disorder that makes you more prone to cancer.

His father, Ricky Caisey, also had it. He developed chondrosarcoma, a cancer of the cartilage, and died in 1988 when his son was 4.

“I’ve had several cousins and an uncle who also had cancer,” the 33-year-old said. “There have been many women in my family with breast cancer.

“Still, I never imagined myself developing cancer, especially not at 23. I never thought I was going to die. I always had in mind to just do what I had to do to get better and live life.”

Chemo left him too weak to play his favourite sport, football, for six years. In 2012 he was finally well enough to get back on the field, playing for Robin Hood in the Corona League.

“I played with Southampton Rangers since pewee days,” he said. “But, in 2006, when I first got sick, I’d been taking a break from it.

“It was so good the first time I got out there. The crowd and people who knew what I went through were cheering me on.

“I really felt the love. Some people said they would have given up on football, but I am going to keep doing it.”

Despite his positive mindset, he was forced to take a rest when cancer returned that same year.

An aggressive form of the disease developed on his leg, and then the liposarcoma came back.

“I have done four or five different chemos,” he said. “My last one was in pill form.

“That one seemed to have worked but really took a toll, causing hand and foot disease. That produces hard calluses on your hands and feet.

“They had to reduce the dosage because my body couldn’t handle it. It made all my joints hurt and it was horrible.

“When they reduced it, it still hurt a little bit, but it was tolerable.

“That was the one that seemed to have worked the most.”

Between treatments Mr Caisey managed to earn a certificate in air conditioning repair from the Bermuda College. He now works at Bermuda Air Conditioning.

“It was difficult when I was doing the chemo and working,” he said. “I had joint pain and couldn’t hold the tools because it made my hands hurt.

“My job was very good with allowing me to come when I could and do what I can and not overdo it. My job has always been very flexible with me.”

His sports buddies were also very supportive.

“They really rallied around me,” he said. “A lot of people came to me and said they wanted to help out; if I ever needed anything just say something. But, we were fine.”

His cancer has been in remission since 2015. He trains with Robin Hood twice a week, playing defensive midfield or centre back. It isn’t always easy. Because his first surgery took out the bottom part of his lungs he can’t always take deep breaths.

“I get excited every time I step out onto the pitch,” he said. “I so easily could not be playing; I could be dead. I had to get used to breathing again. I do different breathing exercises. In the swing of things, it is pretty good.”

The experience has taught him to appreciate life.

“I don’t think too many negative things about it,” he said. “I know [cancer] can happen at any time. You deal with it and you move on. Right now I’m living life to the fullest and having fun.

“I’m going to play football until I can’t walk any more.

“If it does come back, I just got to deal with it, but hopefully it doesn’t and I’ll just keep living my life to the fullest.”

<p>Observing World Cancer Day</p>

Young sports lovers will take centre stage as part of World Cancer Day observances tomorrow.

Bermuda Cancer and Health will visit football games around the island, cheering on young players and distributing information on the disease.

It’s all part of the theme given to the global event: We can. I can: Support Through Sport.

“Cancer education should start in childhood,” said Robyn Dickinson Baras of Bermuda Cancer and Health. “Education for skin, breast, prostate and other forms of cancer should start young.

“Cancer affects one in three people globally and kills over 8 million people per year.

“Children need to grow up learning about the signs, symptoms and preventive measures they can take to minimise their chance of getting cancer.

“Their parents also need to have the conversations with them, so educating parents as well is so important.”

People should also take responsibility for their own health, she added. “People should see their doctors annually for their checkups,” she said. “It’s important to check their skin and breasts regularly, to get active and eat a balanced diet to keep their bodies healthy.”

People are invited to cheer players at games starting at 8.30am and 1.30pm at Somerset Cricket Club, at 11.30am at Bernard Park and at 1pm at National Stadium.

For more information: www.chc.bm or 236-1001.