Known by the St Albans City FC faithful as club mascot Sammy the Saint, Phill Coates tells us how the support he received from our Specialist Nurses helped him through his own devastating diagnosis with prostate cancer, and why he wants more men to be aware of the disease.
He's cycled to Amsterdam, he's walked four marathons with Jeff Stelling, and now he's leading the charge in the Non League football community.
This Saturday 3 September, Phill Coates, together with St Albans City FC co-owner Lawrence Levy and former non-league legend Les Ferdinand, will once again be supporting Prostate Cancer UK.
Whilst the international break may result in groans from fantasy football managers across the country, for the Non League community it's a chance to shine a light on grassroots football, promote the importance of affordable community-led football, and raise money for the 1-in-8 men who get prostate cancer.
Phill never misses a game underneath his Sammy the Saint costume – and Non League Day is no excpetion. But for the St Albans City FC mascot, this Saturday's match is more important than most.
"I wanted to give back to Prostate Cancer UK after receiving such fantastic support and advice from them when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in August 2014," says Phill. In fact, the bad news came around the same time he took on the mascot's role, having only been in costume for about two weeks.
At the time, Phill thought his symptoms resembled his father’s, who had an enlarged prostate. But his PSA test came back very high at 42 and it was then discovered he had prostate cancer. Having seen Bill Bailey in an advert for Prostate Cancer UK, he called our Specialist Nurses to help him decide whether to go for radiotherapy or surgery. They subsequently put him in touch with men who had been through both treatments, and he eventually decided with the consultants at the hospital to opt for a radical prostatectomy.
"It was lucky that I visited the doctor when I did," admits Phill, whose PSA level has been just 0.003 since the operation. "If I’d gone earlier, I may have avoided invasive surgery; but if I’d gone later, the cancer may well have spread."
I felt like I had a friend at the end of the line and the cycling challenge was a great way to take my mind of the cancer
Phill found the service he received from Prostate Cancer UK invaluable, with the Specialist Nurses able to answer questions, give support and call him to check he had all the information he needed to make an informed decision. He also spoke regularly to one of our fundraising team, Sam Vieira, who was incredibly supportive throughout such a tough time, checking up on how he was doing.
"Sam would contact me every couple of weeks," says Phill. "He also mentioned the Football to Amsterdam bike ride to me, which was the incentive I needed after having surgery just two weeks earlier. He was great. I felt like I had a friend at the end of the line and the cycling challenge was a great way to take my mind of the cancer."
Phill managed to get a few people from St Albans City FC involved in the bike ride, including the club’s co-owner, Lawrence Levy. Together they raised over £7,000 with the help of bucket collections, his company's charity golf event at the Belfry and a £500 donation from Morrison’s – something a former Mayor of St. Albans had a hand in as he also had prostate cancer.
Then, with the backing of the Saints, his employer and friends and family, Phill managed to raise over £1,000 walking the last four days of the Men United March.
One day was hard enough. The four that I did was even harder. But ten? Well, it blew me away
"I was totally amazed by what Jeff and Russ did," says Phill. "One day was hard enough. The four that I did was even harder. But ten? Well, it blew me away! Now it's great we can carry on the awareness raised within the Non League community. The spirit of everyone is so strong and I'm so thankful that the club are always so supportive.
"We'll also be using Non League Day to recruit some new riders for Football to Amsterdam 2017. We'd love to get a big Saints team together to represent the Non League. It might be the one time we can rival the bigger clubs!
"The awareness that all these events raise this is simply brilliant and all I can say is that, if you’re a man over 50, speak to your your GP."
Find out more about Football to Amsterdam 2017 and join Phill on the biggest ride in football.