Through the support of Cancer Research UK, world record holder John Farnworth from Longridge, decided to treat AJ Foster, 36, of Preston, and his youngest son, eight-year-old Daniel, who has struggled with his father’s illness, to a football freestyling session.
He talked them through some of his stunts like keepy-uppies and around the worlds in support of Stand Up To Cancer, a joint fund-raising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4. AJ’s wife Annie, 40, and youngest daughter Isobelle, 10, also joined in with the fun.
The footballing masterclass comes just two years after AJ’s diagnosis of Hodgkins lymphoma – a form of blood cancer – after he noticed a lump the size of a golf ball in his neck.
Doctors initially thought the lump on his neck was swelling due to an infection. But after months of blood tests and a biopsy, AJ was told he had cancer in July 2017 during an appointment at Preston Royal Hospital.
AJ’s cancer diagnosis was the latest in a catalogue of medical issues for the family. His mum died from leukaemia when he was just 23 years old, wife Annie had been recently diagnosed with a brain lesion, and youngest daughter Isobelle, age 10, was having monthly transfusions for a rare blood disorder called diamond-blackfan anaemia, which was diagnosed at her birth.
AJ said: “Being told I had cancer at first brought back awful memories of my mum’s disease. Leukaemia took her extremely quickly – she collapsed on a Wednesday and passed away on the Monday, literally days later. I thought that I was off to join her. Our family have been through a hell of a lot.”
AJ was put on a treatment programme at the Preston Royal Hospital and Chorley Hospital cancer units, where he alternated between chemotherapy one week and blood transfusions the next. He completed six cycles of treatment over six months. But his body became severely anaemic and his white blood cell count and blood pressure dropped significantly.
He describes how the situation took its toll on his children, particularly his youngest son Daniel, who was only six when his dad was diagnosed.
AJ said: “Daniel and I used to have so much fun kicking a ball around the garden – but my energy levels completely tanked with the cancer. The pain was excruciating at times and the children had to mature very quickly because I couldn’t be there for them.
“I went from playing football every week and doing the school runs, to being stuck at home with zero energy.”
In April 2018, AJ was told that his cancer was in remission, however more recently, he discovered another lump on his neck and a scan several weeks ago revealed that his cancer may have returned. He is currently awaiting a biopsy to confirm this.
He explained how his children remain his inspiration: “I spent five weeks in hospital with Isobelle when she was young and went through her own regime of intense chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant. I realised that – if she could get through this – then so could I.”
One of the outlets that is helping AJ during this time is football. The family are fanatical about the beautiful game, and AJ has recently started volunteering as coach at Astley and
Buckshaw Junior FC in Chorley.
He said: “When my doctor suggested that I take up voluntary work, the local football side felt like a natural fit. I’ve always loved the sport and it’s great to get out of the house and put my energy into something positive.”
AJ and family were over the moon to be treated to a special visit from local hero and multiple world record holder John Farnworth, who has juggled a football through the Sahara and has seven records, including the greatest vertical ascent controlling a football in one hour, the highest altitude football dropped and volleyed into a goal, and the longest duration controlling a football on an elevated slack line.
John, 33, said: “As soon as I heard AJ’s story, I knew I wanted to do something special for the family, especially as they are from my hometown of Preston. I’ve seen first-hand how positive football can be for kids like Daniel, and I hope our time together was good fun.
“Cancer is something that affects all of us. That’s why I’m supporting Stand Up To Cancer and I hope people in Lancashire will show their support and help speed up lifesaving breakthroughs. Cancer changes lives, but so can we.”
AJ is hugely grateful for the chance to meet with John and raise awareness of Stand Up to Cancer.
He said: “We all had a fantastic day with John – and Daniel in particular really enjoyed himself. It’s not every day you have a visit from a CBBC superstar and the whole experience has really lifted our spirits. I’m extremely grateful for the treatment that helps to fight my cancer, and am giving my heartfelt support to this vitally important campaign.”
Stand Up To Cancer is supported by a host of stars including Davina McCall, Alan Carr, Maya Jama, Greg Rutherford and Joe Lycett.
John and the Foster family hope to motivate everyone in the North West to get involved in Stand Up To Cancer’s ‘Fortnight of Fundraising’ from October 11 to 25.
A free fundraising pack is available full of ideas on how to help make a real difference to people diagnosed with cancer in the region, and across the UK, by raising some cancer crushing cash at work, home or school.
There’s also a fun range of Stand Up To Cancer clothing and accessories available online.
This autumn will see a dedicated season of programming for Stand Up To Cancer on Channel 4.
To find out more about Stand Up To Cancer and how you can support, visit www.su2c.org.uk or channel4.co.uk/SU2C or find them on Facebook and Twitter.
Video supplied by Cancer Research UK