In May 2023, 23-year old rower and umpire Ryan Winterbottom was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He’s now sharing his journey with cancer to raise awareness of the importance of early diagnosis, and how the rowing community helped him through his treatment.
Shortly before his diagnosis, Ryan had rounded off his university rowing career at BUCS regatta with the University of York. Weeks later, he underwent surgery after learning that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. The following nine weeks during the summer of 2023 were marked by intensive chemotherapy sessions.
Ryan acknowledges the crucial role of early detection in his journey and credits the OddBalls Foundation (a UK charity dedicated to raising awareness for testicular cancer) with his early diagnosis. “It was early in May when I knew something was slightly off, just as we were getting prepared to race at BUCS Regatta. I had seen adverts about checking yourself regularly and had identified a lump that I was beginning to get worried about. It was a little painful but I decided to wait until after BUCS Regatta to go to the doctor. In the week after we raced it really just went from there.”
Giving back to rowing
After undergoing surgery for his cancer removal and receiving the all clear in August 2023, Ryan started rowing again at Kingston RC.
He’s also recently qualified as a British Rowing Umpire, so that he can give back to the sport that supported him through a very challenging time in his life. “I wanted to become an Umpire because there’s so much more to the sport than just being the person in the boat. There’s this whole ecosystem that is behind every regatta, and by becoming an umpire I wanted to secure some longevity in the sport. Before my diagnosis, I hadn’t realised what lay outside of being a competitor – the people who ran the events we dreamed of winning and how the sport depends on so many unsung heroes,” he explained. “There’s a depth that you don’t realise until you’re forced to re-evaluate your own position within the sport, like officials, race organisers, commentators and those who sell food at regional regattas to help with raising club funds.”
“Rowing is a weird family, but one that I love immensely,” says Ryan, reflecting on the support he has received from friends and strangers alike. Ryan was organising umpire for the 2023 White Rose Head, hosted by the University of York BC (unfortunately cancelled due to stream conditions), and he aims to continue to give back to his sport in the years to come.
“Rowing, as a community, is against cancer and we can beat it.”
Raising awareness and spreading hope
He has created an Instagram account – @rowingagainstcancertogether – to share his experience. Through this platform Ryan celebrates the unwavering support of the rowing community and raises awareness of testicular cancer amongst his fellow athletes, providing hope to rowers around the UK who may also be going through similar diagnoses.
“This Instagram account is intended to raise awareness of both the physical and mental implications of the sudden change that a cancer diagnosis can have upon rowers and our teammates.”
“It’s my hope that, through the opening of discourse, we can support one another and ensure that the transitions between training and treatment are as seamless as possible. I want to be able to show the story of coming back and still achieving the things I want to in the sport.”
Ryan hopes that sharing positive updates of rowing after his diagnosis on social media will comfort others undergoing similar health battles.
“If someone comes across my account in five years time, and the first ever post is about my initial diagnosis and the most recent post is me celebrating everything I’ve achieved in the sport, then they will know it’s not the end.”
“I want to share positive updates and let everyone know that rowing, as a community, is against cancer and together we can beat it.”
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