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Living with cancer: Ronnie’s experience

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Emma Jacob


When Ronnie Cassells noticed blood in his urine one evening, he knew it was something he couldn’t ignore.

Ronnie standing in his garden and smiling at the camera

“I told myself I wasn’t going to bury my head in the sand, I’d never do that. I went straight to see my doctor,” said 67-year-old Ronnie, from Ripon.

“I went to the toilet before bed one night, and I noticed that there was blood in my wee. I went to the hospital the next day, and they referred me for tests. I had a cystoscopy, which is where a camera is used to look inside of your bladder, and they determined that the problem was with my kidneys.”

Ronnie was referred to speak to a doctor but before his appointment he fell ill at a rugby match and was taken to hospital. During his time in hospital, he had a procedure called biopsy, which involves a small sample of body tissue being taken for examination. He was then told he had kidney cancer.

Ronnie said: “The first three months after I was diagnosed were tough. I was frightened. I think everyone is frightened when they’re first diagnosed."

"I was told that statistically I had 18 months. That was three years ago now.”

Ronnie had surgery to remove his kidney, and after six weeks recovering at home, started chemotherapy. After finishing chemotherapy, he had immunotherapy, a treatment which encourages the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.

Since his diagnosis, Ronnie has turned his attention to the ways he can show support for others affected by cancer.

During his treatment, he contracted Covid-19 and offered to take part in a trial which was exploring how Covid-19 affected those having immunotherapy.

He explained:

“When I was first diagnosed, I couldn’t find anything that I felt helped me come to terms with living with cancer. Taking part in trials helped me enormously. I felt that I had a duty to do it.

“If no-one offers to be involved in these studies, we wouldn’t make any progress with cancer research. When you see other people who are having treatment at the same time as you, you want to help in the best way you can, and for me that was taking part in the trial.

“My friend was 29 when he died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 40 years ago, and we’ve come a long way since then. People who lost their lives could have been treated or at least have their life prolonged if they were diagnosed today. That’s because of research, it’s the key to moving everything forward.”

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Ronnie is also keen to make sure anyone with symptoms speaks to their doctor.

He said: “Once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you notice how many people say things like ‘it’ll be nothing’ or ‘it only happened once and it didn’t happen again’, but with things like blood in your urine, it shouldn’t be happening at all.

“When it happened to me, I said that I wasn’t going to bury my head in the sand, I’ll never do that. Unfortunately for me, it was cancer, but often it’s nothing to be worried about and speaking to your doctor can put your mind at rest.”

Ronnie has spent much of his life in Ripon and has been part of the city’s cricket and rugby teams for many years, so when his mind turned to a fundraising event, the rugby club seemed like the perfect place to do it.

After inviting his friends and neighbours to a hog roast in the summer of 2022, Ronnie raised an incredible £5000 for Yorkshire Cancer Research.

“I felt that it was important to fundraise for Yorkshire Cancer Research because cancer is a big problem for the region and a lot of people are diagnosed with it.

“I’m a social person and I know a lot of people in the area, and I’ve known them for a long time. They knew that I had cancer, so they were supportive of the event. I think everyone’s been touched by cancer in some way, so fundraising for Yorkshire Cancer Research is something people really get behind.

“It’s humbling to have raised so much for research. I never imagined we’d raised that much. I was over the moon with how generous everyone was.”

Ronnie is currently monitored by his doctor to make sure that the cancer has not spread, and he will resume chemotherapy if there is any sign that it has grown.

Ronnie added: “All being well, I’m hoping that I can host the event again next year and continue to support the brilliant work that Yorkshire Cancer Research fund.”

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