Matthew Bell is a 30 year old Irish International Hockey Player, who is currently working in Financial Crime with PWC in Belfast and playing hockey at Banbridge Hockey Club.
Below he shares details of his remarkable story of a sudden cancer diagnosis and challenging treatment, his journey to get back to the pitch, and how his experience as a professional sportsperson supported his recovery mindset.
He's compiled his recovery story into Second Chances a remarkable memoir that recounts his battle with cancer and his extraordinary comeback to the sport he loves.
In 2019, after winning my 100th cap for my country, I started experiencing a loss of form on the hockey pitch. I was also waking up with migraines and vomiting. I had signed to join KHC Dragons, a top Belgian hockey club, however they sent me back to my previous club, CHTC in Germany where I'd already played two seasons, after I hadn't played very well in my first few training sessions. Moving back to CHTC would save my life.
Two dizzy spells in a week - one where I collapsed onto a food table after a match - led to an MRI scan on Friday 13th September, where they found a tumour in my brain the size of three golf balls. If I didn’t have emergency surgery I was going to have a brain haemorrhage, which given where it was in my brain would have been fatal.
Five surgeries later and six weeks in hospital in Germany, I was flown home to Belfast by air ambulance where I started my cancer treatment - while also having to learn how to walk, talk and eat again from scratch; those precious life skills I hadn't done for seven weeks. A consultant neurosurgeon told my parents when I got back to Belfast that he couldn’t say if I'd ever walk or talk again.
Physios and occupational therapists worked and worked with me to get me back on my feet, out of a wheelchair and speaking again. Then one year after my diagnosis, I ran unaided for the first time on my home pitch of Banbridge Hockey Club. Afterwards, my dad said to me he didn’t think he’d ever see me run again.
Two and a half years after my last match, I made it back onto the pitch to play for Banbridge 5th XI, and now I’ve just started my second season with the 3rd XI. I am nowhere near the player that I used to be, but I'm now cancer free, and I have to be thankful to be alive and able to play and coach hockey.
One thing I would say that was vital to my recovery was having a positive mental attitude through the whole process. There were many days I didn’t think I'd ever be back on the pitch, but being a professional sportsperson you have to have a positive attitude. You will always have setbacks, but it’s how you come back from those setbacks which is important. Never give up hope. No matter how far away something seems, make small goals and tick them off as you complete them.
I’ve written a book on my recovery - "Second Chances" - in the hope to help others going through difficult times, with proceeds going to 'Friends of The Cancer Centre', where I stayed for four months as an inpatient. To read my story in full you can purchase "Second Chances" here.
Thank you Matthew for sharing your powerful story and supportive words for others going through their own challenging times. What an incredible show of resilience in the face of adversity - we wish you all the best in your return to the pitch! If you'd like to access Matthew's book "Second Chances", you'll find more information here.
Want to read important advice on managing transitions in sport? Click here to hear a therapists Expert Insight on Transitioning Through Prolonged or Career Ending Injury.