It was a poignant moment for devoted Boro fan Sharron Garbutt when she carried out the match ball before the club’s home game with Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
Three years ago, Sharron’s husband John, a fellow Season Card holder, was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread to his spine. Despite intensive treatment, the disease claimed his life within months.
Since John’s death, Sharron has campaigned for Prostate Cancer UK, the Football League’s official charity, who combined with staff, players and fans at the Riverside on Saturday in a special day of action against a disease that affects one in eight men.
Sharron, from Billingham, said: "If I can help to save one man’s life by raising awareness of this disease, then I will feel John’s death was not in vain and that I have achieved something amazing.
"John would have been so jealous to see me walking out to the centre circle with the ball. It’s a fitting tribute to my husband who was such a proud Boro fan."
Sharron, who sits in the West Stand Lower, used to accompany John to matches and looked forward to travelling to away matches in their camper van.
"I’ve learned a lot about prostate cancer since losing John and the main thing is that it can spread so quickly,” she added. “My husband was a fit and active 64-year-old man who was never off work and he had no symptoms prior to coming down with a bad back.
"He had an MRI scan that showed he had a tumour in his spine. He had radiotherapy, which helped, but within 11 months the condition took his life.
"It came as such a huge shock to us because John had been travelling to work at Corus, where he was a fitter, on his motorbike just days leading up to the diagnosis.
"The message is that prostate cancer can have devastating consequences if it is undetected in the early stages."
The charity is currently engaged in its high profile ‘Men United v Prostate Cancer’ campaign, which aims to build a united front of men against the disease. Big names from the world of show business such as Stephen Fry, Sir Michael Parkinson and Damian Lewis, together with England sporting icons Les Ferdinand and Will Carling, have already signed for Men United, a unique team ‘managed’ by comedian Bill Bailey.
From the Riverside Stadium to Rodney Parade and Brunton Park to Home Park, clubs from up and down the country are taking steps to make a change. Men are being asked to sign and also test their health knowledge by completing a simple online test.
Men United v Prostate Cancer
Prostate Cancer UK’s Director of Fundraising, Mark Bishop, said: "We’ve been blown away by the positivity generated by our Men United v Prostate Cancer campaign and as official charity partner of the Football League it’s fantastic to be able to further enhance that synergy as part of these special days.
"It’s great to see clubs up and down the country join together to make a difference to men’s health, not just on behalf of its own fans but on behalf of all men across the country too, men like John. Sharron’s magnificent efforts have been rightly recognised as she keeps the legacy of John burning bright and we hope she enjoys her special day."
The pioneering partnership between Prostate Cancer UK and The Football League aims to reach over 16 million fans across the terraces up and down the country, raising awareness of the disease that affects one in eight men some time in their lives and kills more than 10,000 men a year.