‘Cancer doesn’t discriminate’: Young gay man opens up about his shocking experience with bladder cancer

Connor Cunningham-Bladon, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer

Two years ago, Connor Cunningham-Bladon was a healthy and happy 24-year-old. He had a good job, friends and was comfortable and content as a young gay man on the cusp of a bright future. Needless to say, cancer was the last thing on his mind – and then he noticed blood in his urine.

He was initially frightened, but quickly shrugged it off as a one-time occurrence. He told his personal trainer about the blood, and they agreed that it could be a side effect of the protein he was taking as part of his training regime.

Then, a week later, he came in from a night out, went to the toilet, and there it was again: blood in his urine.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to act on this, I need to go to the doctor,’” Connor tells PinkNews.

Cunningham-Bladon – who is now 26-years-old and lives in Gillingham, Kent – was nervous about seeking medical attention, but he knew he had to find out if there was something seriously wrong. He initially went to his GP who referred him to hospital for further tests. Despite this, Connor wasn’t too concerned. He had no other symptoms – he was not in pain at all – and there are various causes for blood in the urine. Cancer was not on his radar.

A life-changing hospital check-up revealed a tumour in his bladder.

Connor went into Medway Maritime Hospital where he had a cystoscopy done – but what started out as an innocuous check-up turned into a life-changing moment. He was told that there was a tumour in his bladder. It was suspected that it was benign – meaning a non-cancerous growth – due to his age, as bladder cancer is most common in older men. But doctors were clear on the necessary course of action: the tumour would have to be removed as it was the only way they could find out if it was malignant.

The following month of Connor’s life was a harrowing one. He went back into hospital where he had the tumour removed, and promptly contracted a nasty urine infection. When the tests came back, he was given startling news: the tumour was indeed cancerous, but because it had been caught at such an early stage, he was already cancer-free.

At first, Connor felt emotional, and then felt tremendous relief knowing that he would not have to undergo any further treatment.

Cancer doesn’t discriminate and it affects all of us.

“But then the shock kicks in,” he explains. “I had just found out what it was, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m only 24 – how can this have happened?’

“I was just so shocked at what it was,” Connor continues. “But then at the same time, I had this feeling of, ‘I’m so glad I don’t have to have any more treatment now, I can pretty much recover and get back to normal.’ It was such a mix of emotions. It’s been two years and I’m pretty much back to normal, but there is the rare thing here and there that makes me think of it.

“It’s always going to be with me – it’s always going to be on my mind at some stage. You only have to see an advert about it and you’re reminded of it.”

Connor Cunningham-Bladon is appealing to other young gay men to pay close attention to their health.

Today, Connor is healthy – but this is only because he sought medical attention at such an early stage. If he had decided to put off a medical check-up, his future could have been very different. While his skirmish with cancer was remedied quickly, he says the experience changed him in fundamental ways.

“The experience has definitely changed me in terms of how I appreciate life,” Connor says. “That’s definitely one thing cancer does. Before I used to think things like, ‘Oh God, I’m getting older,’ but now I try worrying a little bit less. By the time I get to 30, I’ll be happy to be 30. It changes your mindset and it makes you realise that life is short.”

Connor Cunningham-Bladon was diagnosed with bladder cancer at the age of 24

Gay man Connor Cunningham-Bladon was diagnosed with bladder cancer at the age of 24 (Photo courtesy of Cancer Research UK)

Connor is now appealing to young people everywhere – but particularly young gay men – to be more aware of cancer. Recent research suggests that three quarters of men in the UK don’t go to their GP when showing signs of ill-health, but with cancer, time is of the essence.

“Cancer doesn’t discriminate and it affects all of us,” Connor says. “My message is particularly for younger men – a lot of us just leave things to linger, and when you do that, you can make things worse. If something seems wrong – anything really, say you have symptoms of an STI – go to the doctor. They’ve seen it all before. The doctor’s not going to care, because at the end of the day it’s your health. The earlier you get something looked at, if it doesn’t seem to be right, hopefully you’ll be able to clear it and things will be alright.”

A quarter of all bladder cancer cases are diagnosed at a late stage.

Bladder cancer is the tenth most common form of the illness in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK, with an average of 10,200 new diagnoses each year between 2014 and 2016. While bladder cancer is relatively common, almost a quarter of all cases are caught at a late stage in the UK. Just 50 percent of those diagnosed with bladder cancer survive for 10 years or more in England and Wales.

While young people are less likely to get cancer than older people, this does not mean they are immune, as Connor’s story illustrates. Between 2014-2016, there were an average of 2,603 young people diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK.

It is for these reasons and more that Connor is supporting Cancer Research UK and Channel 4’s new campaign, Stand Up To Cancer. The joint fundraising initiative unites scientists, celebrities and communities across the UK to raise money to help develop new tests and treatments for cancer.

Lynn Daly, spokesperson for the South East for Cancer Research UK says there has been great progress in tackling cancer through research in the last few decades.

“But with one in two of us in the UK set to develop the disease at some point in our lives, there’s still so much more to do,” she says.

“Cancer is unforgiving, unpredictable and relentless. But by standing up to it and raising money for research, we can beat it at its own game.”