In January of 2017, now-Barnoldswick Town goalkeeper Ryan Livesey got the best news he had ever received: he was going to be a father. Ryan was "over the moon". Five months later, he went to see the doctor. He had noticed traces of blood in his urine before, but had put off seeing anyone. Now it was getting worse. He was told he had bladder cancer. He was 22.
Almost two years on, and Audenshaw-born Ryan has undergone three operations to remove various tumours. Just a day before the latest op on Tuesday, April 23rd, he turned out for Barnoldswick against Silsden in the Hallmark Security North West Counties Football League Premier Division. After missing training on the Thursday, he played again on the Saturday, just four days after having a tumour lasered away, and broke the record for most appearances in a season for Barnoldswick.
"The way I see it, I've got my two legs so why can't I carry on?" asks Ryan, matter-of-factly. "The operation was successful - everything went to plan - and so long as I'm fine in myself and I'm feeling good and the doctors say it's okay..."
Naturally modest, Ryan's achievements this season can not be understated. His manager, Matt Barnes, put it best when he tweeted: "I cannot explain how focused this lad is!" Moreover, the challenges for Ryan have not just been physical, but mental too: after thinking he had beaten cancer following the original diagnosis, he was told last November that it had returned. Ever-committed, he played the second half of the season anyway.
"The first time, it's a massive shock to the system," said Ryan, who had to take a year off from his work as a bin man for Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council when he first learned of his illness. "The second time, you're not expecting it but you're more prepared. You obviously don't want it, but you look forward, asking the doctor what's next.
"This time around, I've not had a single day off work," he added.
Now undergoing a six-week-long course of chemotherapy, you can hear a tinge of frustration in Ryan's voice that he ignored his symptoms for so long. "If you notice blood in your wee, see someone," he says. "I didn't, I left it for six months but luckily for me, it was a slow-growing cancer. Don't be scared to speak about it. People can get help."
While his legs and stomach ache after his weekly chemo, generally Ryan - who between the ages of 16 and 22 played for Maine Road FC - says that he's in a good place, and plenty of that is down to the support he has had from not only Barnoldswick Town, but scores of friends and family.
"The amount of people who have wished me well has carried me along - I wanted to show people that you can keep going," said Ryan. "The support from the club has been immense, too: the Chairman Stewart Airdrie, the Secretary Alyson Norris, Matt, the fans - they've done a hell of a lot for me.
"They said whatever I wanted, they'd support me and I couldn't ask for more," added Ryan, who was named the division's goalkeeper of the month in November. "My manager Matt has been so good to me - phoning me after the operation, texting me, offering to take me to appointments. I can't thank him enough."
With Ryan showing his profound commitment to the club by playing through cancer, Barnoldswick have reciprocated, offering him an 18-month contract and making him just one of two contracted players in the squad. And, with him and his partner Sophie now the proud parents of 18-month-old Leo, he has plenty to play for.
"When I found out I was going to be a father, I was over the moon and then I had my diagnosis," said Ryan. "It just made me think: 'I've got to get through this; I have to.' It's still my main source of motivation now.
"I'll go through anything."