As a professional footballer, Nick Anderton was no stranger to challenges on the pitch. But everything changed for him after a sarcoma diagnosis.
A scan on his knee in July 2022 showed that Nick had osteosarcoma in a portion of his right femur, meaning surgery and intensive chemotherapy to save his life.
Now he is determined to look to a positive future while raising awareness of sarcoma.
Nick’s diagnosis came at a crucial time in his football career, most recently playing for League One club Bristol Rovers. Aged just 25 at the time, he was expecting to keep playing for another decade or so but ultimately he was forced into an early retirement from the sport.
Osteosarcoma is a type of bone sarcoma mostly diagnosed in teenagers and young people; however, it can also affect older adults.
Nick’s sarcoma was picked up after a pre-season scan at the club, although he had experienced a nagging pain in his knee for a while. Things moved swiftly after that.
‘The operation was a full knee replacement and 12 centimetres of my thigh bone chopped out and replaced with aluminium. They put my own kneecap back on, and six weeks later I started chemotherapy,’ says Nick.
The support of Nick’s partner Isabel and their two young children, Grace and George, based in Preston, Lancashire, gave him the motivation he needed, particularly as George was born during his treatment.
A full-on 28 weeks of ‘mop up’ chemotherapy meant he was in Manchester’s Christie Hospital for four or five nights at a time. A new community of friends on the wards were a great support, as well as his former teammates and the football world.
‘Sarcoma doesn’t just affect the person going through it,’ says Nick. ‘I’m very, very fortunate. If I’d gone to most GPs, they would have apparently said that nothing was wrong.
‘It felt like a double whammy, dealing with cancer, but also realising that I wouldn’t be able to play again.
‘I thought professional football was tough, but what you go through with sarcoma is something quite different.’
Summer 2023 brought good news from his scans and a chance to enjoy precious time with his family. He said: ‘It’s been a shock for us all, but right now we’re making up for lost time as a family.’
Even in difficult times, the couple managed to find reasons to be positive — often thanks to Grace and George. Any concerns Nick had about losing his hair after chemotherapy soon disappeared when Grace found Isabel shaving Nick’s head over the bath after clumps started to fall out and called him ‘Mr Potato Head’.
Watching football became challenging for Nick after his retirement, especially as the initial diagnosis gave hope that he would be able to continue playing.
The ups and downs had included the tumour originally being diagnosed as low grade and then assessed as high grade, and a different operation than expected, which Nick describes as a ‘scary time’.
He said: ‘The day I found out I needed a different operation was the day I knew I wouldn’t play again.’
Now he wants to get back into football; he is attending games again and giving motivational talks.
‘It was tough mentally but I’m now getting back into life, and know I want to be involved in football as well as helping to raise awareness of sarcoma.’
While regular scans will continue, Nick can now focus on family life as well as raising awareness and money to improve the landscape for people with sarcoma in the UK.
‘I’m OK talking about it because it’s my body and my mind, but it doesn’t just affect you. It’s affected my whole family as well. If sarcoma can be detected early enough, then it stops those experiences affecting so many people.’