Max Taylor.

Taylor: I won't let cancer define me

Wednesday 27 November 2019 09:00

Manchester United defender Max Taylor says he will not let cancer define him after recovering from a spell out of the game due to the illness.

In a chat with Joe Thompson, to be first aired on MUTV on Wednesday afternoon at 14:15 GMT, the 19-year-old discussed his inspiring story in great detail and explained how he did not let a secondary operation derail his career. Former United youngster Thompson, who returned after overcoming Hodgkin lymphoma to play for Rochdale, went through a similar experience and was able to provide valuable support and advice for Max.

As the teenager has been named in the travelling squad for the Europa League tie with Astana, on the back of a first appearance at Old Trafford, as a substitute for the Under-23s against Sunderland last Friday, his remarkable courage and resilience is certainly being rewarded.

Watch a clip from Joe Thompson's inspirational interview with Max Taylor.
The shock of discovering the testicular problem came when he moved up to the Under-23s, in the summer of 2018, after progressing through the club’s Academy.

“It was during my first pre-season with the Under-23s as a first-year pro,” he told MUTV. “I felt a lump at first and had a bit of a dragging pain when I would do sprints. I didn’t feel right. We were doing longer stuff and I was panting heavily and had a pain. It was every time I would get to that heavy stage that I would get that pain in the same area.

“I went to the doctor and had it checked. At first, it was just a cyst and then I had antibiotics and, after a week, it was fine. Then, a week later, it came back but it was bigger and had a bit of an infection. I got sent by the club doctor to a specialist and he gave me the same antibiotics and told me I probably just needed a longer course. But he sent me off for a scan just to make sure everything was alright. Then it was at the scan when they found a cancer-looking area right in the middle.”

The news obviously rocked Taylor, as a fit and healthy young sportsman at one of the biggest clubs in the world, and, although he remained defiant, it was a dreadful blow to receive.

“We all broke down when we first got told, my mum, my stepdad and I,” he revealed. “Because, obviously, I’m 18 and playing. I’m in a bubble, you don’t think that any other news concerning anything other than football would come, especially something that you know is life threatening. When you hear the word, it’s almost like ‘how is that possible?’ You start thinking of the worst. Instantly, you just think worst-case scenario, which to anyone when they hear the word ‘cancer’ is ‘will you live?’”

Late October last year, a scan revealed the problem had spread to the lymph nodes in his abdomen. Another operation was required and the period of chemotherapy was understandably incredibly tough for Max.

“The cancer cells had been wiped out,” he recalled. “But there was dead tissue that had swollen. The chemotherapy had got rid of the cancer cells but it hadn’t gone back to the size of a normal lymph node so, just to remove any risk of it recurring, I had to get it taken out. So it was a cut straight through and then an opening near where the kidneys are. That’s where the three lymph nodes were. One had attached itself to the aorta so it was quite a risky operation.”

Max returned to full training and has got back into his stride.
Mercifully, the surgery was a success and, after another period of rehabilitation, he was given the all-clear in mid-February. “That was a massive relief,” he admitted. “You just think: ‘Oh my God, finally.’ That is everything.” Although he was told Christmas would be a realistic timeframe for a return to action, he is now back playing, of course. “You don’t stick to that,” he said. “You push yourself.”

After incredible levels of support from the club and the doctor, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer chatted to him on his return to the Aon Training Complex and shifted the focus away from the illness, something Max was relieved to hear. It is his mindset now that the episode is firmly in the past.

“Ole was asking how I am and about normal things, which was nice because I didn’t want it to be about the treatment,” he added. “At that stage, you’re sick of telling people. You want to put it behind you and focus on the next stage. I wanted to get away from it, I knew it would still be there but I wanted to push on to the next challenge.

“I don’t want it to define me. I’d rather it be a part of me and then whether it’s my football or how I am as a person, all combines to define me. I don’t want it to be a case of it’s the cancer that defines me.

Max works in the gym at the Aon Training Complex.

“Next is I’m planning to get regular football, whether it be in the Under-23s or on loan or whatever. My ultimate goal is to play for the first team here.”

Maybe that ambition could be realised on Thursday in Kazakhstan. It would certainly be some story.

Watch the full interview with Joe Thompson on MUTV on Wednesday, it will be aired at 14:15, 20:00 and 23:30 GMT.

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