Cancer survivor Jamie is an inspiration to all men for Movember

Battled cancer - HECK sausage company co-founder Jamie Keeble.
Battled cancer - HECK sausage company co-founder Jamie Keeble.

Ten minutes earlier Jamie Keeble had been playing five-a-side football with friends in Harrogate.

Now he’d noticed something which might change his entire future or cost him his life, even.

Jamie Keeble with his parents and brothers and sister who run the HECK business at Bedale.

Jamie Keeble with his parents and brothers and sister who run the HECK business at Bedale.

How he reacted to that shock discovery means 26-year-old Jamie is here to tell the tale.

And this brave young man is happy to talk about it in public in a way most people still wouldn’t.

It’s the result of having a positive approach - the same approach that helped turn HECK, the Bedale-based sausage and burger business he co-founded four years ago with his parents Andrew and Debbie and brothers Guy and Roddy and sister Ellie, in Bedale, into the UK’s market leader.

Jamie said: “I normally play five-a-side at Harrogate Ladies College on a Wednesday night.

“On this particular evening I’d scored an absolute belter of a goal from the halfway line.

“But, when I was in the shower after the game I felt a lump. There wasn’t any pain but I could tell because of the firmness of the lump it wasn’t good.

“I tried not to panic and thought, well, I’ll just go and see the GP tomorrow morning.”

There had been no alarm bells in advance of that night in April this year to warn him that he might be suffering from testicular cancer.

The health of this former student at St Aidan’s School was, apparently, good.

As well as playing football regularly, Jamie had become something of a jack-of-all-trades at HECK as the business grew rapidly.

The eldest son of North Yorkshire farmers Andrew and Debbie Keeble, he was equally at home on the road selling this ethically-conscious brand to the UK’s leading supermarkets as in production and admininstration.

He could often be spotted with his a sidecar on his way to trade shows, the family’s pet dachshund Coco by his side, roaring down the road.

What the doctor said

The morning after his discovery after football, he did go and see his GP

Jamie’s doctor told him not to jump to conclusions about the small lump which was about the size of his finger tip.

But Jamie decided this wasn’t good enough. He wanted a scan as quickly as possible.

The hospital told him it would probably be weeks before he could get a scan.

Again, he wasn’t happy. His father had had his own health scare recently and he decided instant action was required.

“Sometimes you know when your body is telling you something is wrong.

“I decided to go private. My dad had been skiiing in January and had a fall and hit his head quite badly.

“We didn’t think much of it at the time but a couple of months later he lost all feeling in one arm.

“It turned out he had bleeding in the brain and that very night he had to have an operation. He’s alright now but it opened my eyes a bit to what can happen.”

Jamie went to Spire Leeds Hospital in Roundhay for a scan.

The results confirmed he had been right to be worried.

“I had the whole weekend to mentally prepare before the scan.

“ The radiologist said it was a cancerous tumour. They didn’t know how aggressive it was.

“I’ve never had an operation before but the doctor said they would have to remove the whole testicle.”

The operation

Jamie, who said it was an easy decision to turn his back on the chance of going to university in order to help launch HECK with his family, had prepared himself for the bad news.

But it was only now that the scale of the situation sunk in.

“I’m an active person, I’m a positive person. I took it well, I thought, I accepted it but once I got home I started to think what happens if the cancer spreads? I might need chemotherapy. I might be ill for quite a long time.”

Less than a week later Jamie was under a general anaesthetic in the operating room.

In 30 minutes it was all over. It was quick andpainless, though the wound to his groin left him hopping around for seven or eight weeks when he couldn’t walk properly.

But there were still major decisions to come bout his future.

It’s perfectly possible to live a healthy life with just one testicle and 48% of men in a similar situation to Jamie choose not to replace the missing testicle with a silicon one.

Jamie decided to do the opposite.

“I’m only a young man. I’m, not married, though I was in a relationship at the time.

“I had a choice to make and I made it. The new testicle looks very realistic. Sometimes I forget I’ve even got it.”

A new dilemma

The doctors had one more dilemma to offer up.

The chances of his cancer recurring in the remaining testicle or spreading to his abdomen were as high as 35% - unless he had a course of chemotherapy.

“I was dreading it. I know how rotten chemo can make you feel but if I did it the risk of the cancer recurring dropped to five per cent. It was worth it for peace of mind.”

That was nearly five months ago and Jamie is back at work and making a real effort to get back to full fitness.

He’s even bought a bicycle which he rides every evening.

“Having chemo is like being car sick. I took the HECK brand to the Good Food Show at Birmingham recently and found it draining. But I couldn’t wait to get back to work and get back on the road.”

Telling his parents

Looking back now on a traumatic six months, Jamie said the hardest thing of all was breaking the news originally to his parents.

“The hardest thing was telling mum and dad. It was a tough thing for them to hear. The family had been lucky in terms of illnesses until this year.

“But they’ve all been very supportive. I spent weeks staying with my parents when I was recovering.

“Dad was probably more worried about me than I was. Mum held everyone together. She’s like the glue of the family.”

Supporting Movember

The experience has left its mark on the whole Keeble family.

They’re all getting behind Movember next month, that part of the calendar when men are encouraged to take action when it comes to their health, and especially to check themselves for signs of testicular cancer.

Jamie is going to join thousands of others in growing a moustache.

And the business itself will rename its sausages CHECK for one month wth the aim of raising £25,000 for the Movember Foundation.

It’s a move welcomed by Movember.

Its director of partnerships, Laura Mair said: “We’re excited about HECK’s rebrand to CHECK for Movember.

“Our goal is to stop men dying too young, and in order to achieve this we need more men aware of the risks that they face and to take action. HECK has created a really fun way to get the message. across”

The family is proud not only of the decisive action Jamie took on the road to recovery but also the fearless way in which he has been willing to talk about what is still for many people a highly sensitive subject.

His father Andrew said: “Jamie has been an inspiration. Too many men feel something unusual but don’t tell anyone, so we’ve got to make it easier for them to say when they feel something isn’t quite right.”

A message to inspire us all

Jamie said he preferred to tell friends of his condition face-to-face, rather than shouting about it in general and worrying everyone.

But he feels strongly there is nothing to hide from and that his medical condition should not be treated as a taboo subject.

“It was a hard thing to talk about at first. It’s quite a personal thing. It takes a lot of guts to confront it.

“I wanted to get the message across that if you’ve got any doubts about a growth or a lump, you’ve got to see your doctor, you’ve got to get a scan, you’ve got to act quickly.

“It’s so important. I can’t stress it highly enough.

“I’m talking about what happened to me to encourage men to check their health. Getting testicular cancer is not the end of the world. You can live a normal life.

“I’m glad I did what I did. The scar in my groin from the operation has healed.

“I went for a fertility check after my chemo and I am still fertile. I feel very fortunate.

“Thank God I’m on the way to recovery.

“The best thing you can do is remain positive.”