Elland brain tumour survivor who suffered depression creates support group to help young patients

Elland man Ryan Holland
Elland man Ryan Holland

An Elland man who suffered severe depression after treatment for a brain tumour has set up a self-help group for other young cancer patients.

The emotional impact of battling cancer took 21-year-old Ryan Holland so low he fell into a deep depression.

Ryan from Elland had just started as an apprentice when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour after suffering a blackout. But it wasn’t just the physical battle of fighting the disease that took its toll, it was the emotional one.

Now Ryan has set up a self-help group via the cancer charity Candlelighters to try to support others young people going through what he has and has become a full-time volunteer.

Ryan had just left school and started his first job when he blacked out in 2016. Initial blood tests at Calderdale Royal Hospital showed nothing so he was allowed home but days later went to his GP who sent him straight back to hospital for a CT scan. He was transferred to Leeds General Infirmary where Ryan and parents Richard and Noreen Holland were told he had a walnut-sized tumour and they would need to operate to relieve the pressure and take a biopsy to see if it was cancerous.

When he came round from surgery, in his half-asleep state, he was convinced he was in a field hospital at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Ryan had a rare form of brain cancer which meant he would need chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“It was such a rare tumour the medics said they only saw a couple of cases like this in the North of England every five years,” he recalls.

He got respite from his treatment in the teenage room at St James’ Hospital in Leeds provided by Huddersfield-based Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust (lauracranetrust.org) where he could watch TV and play computer games.

“It brought a sense of normality to a time of my life that was so daunting and scary,” said Ryan who needed a special mask to keep his head totally still for the radiotherapy. The treatment worked and on December 23, 2016 Ryan rang the famous bell at St James’s Hospital to signify his treatment had finished. There is now just a four per cent chance that the cancer will return.

Ryan thought his life would then get straight back on track, but it wasn’t to be. He returned to work too early, which had an impact on his mental health and he left, but quickly started to feel low. This descended into anxiety and depression.

He went to Andy’s Man Club in Halifax where men are encouraged to talk about their feelings and emotions and ways to feel more positive about themselves and their lives. As Ryan told his story he felt tears streaming down his face and the burden starting to lift from his shoulders.

He also joined other young cancer patients on an outdoor pursuits week in the Lake District run by the charity Climbing Out which aims to rebuild confidence and self-esteem in young people aged 16 to 30 who have been through a life-changing injury, illness or trauma. This was organised by the Teenage Cancer Trust and on the course Ryan quickly discovered he was far from alone in feeling so down once cancer treatment had finished.

“It turned out to be the best week of my life,” said Ryan. “I felt to really move forward afterwards.

“When you are going through the treatment it’s like a tornado – there’s no time to stop and think about what will happen afterwards.

“When that day finally comes most people realise they have to totally rebuild their lives.”

Ryan spends one day a week volunteering for the Candlelighters children’s cancer charity at its family support centre in the Clarendon Wing at Leeds General Infirmary.

“If I’d not had cancer, I’d now be in a job earning money but my life has gone down a different route. It’s mainly volunteering and by doing so I feel I’m helping to make a difference to people’s lives and that’s enriched me in so many different ways.”