The offseason can be a struggle for many student athletes. The end of the season coincides with the start of the exam period. The excitement of sport is replaced with the drudgery of dimly lit library rooms and daunting exam halls. For the dedicated, hours of summer will be devoted to preparation for the next campaign that is months away.
For Mide Segun, this offseason was not a struggle. It was a battle.
During the 2017-18 season, Mide split time at Right Tackle and Defensive Tackle for QMBL’s American Football team, the Vipers. Despite being new to the team, his stoic yet dominating presence earned respect and he was named a captain before the season began. Fast forward to the end of the year and, having been instrumental in the Vipers securing the Division 2 South East title, Mide won the Vipers’ Player of the Year award and was nominated for QM Captain of the Year. He achieved this despite developing what doctors had diagnosed as asthma.
Except it wasn’t asthma, it was Hodgkins Lymphoma.
This is Mide’s story.
I’ve been playing rugby since I was about 7 and I started athletics around the same time. Athletics wise I was quite successful. I won the indoor Surrey Championship (60m) in back to back years when I was 13 and 14 and won the outdoor 100 and 200 meters in one of those years as well. I started playing American football in university at Warwick for one season, but I left Warwick and took a year out. I’d watched [American Football] before, not that much, but I’d really fallen out with rugby so I thought why not try a new sport and it worked out. I loved football at Warwick, especially as I was playing Running Back there. I still remember my first touchdown. I went ballistic. I got tackled over the line and was looking at the ref waiting for the signal. When he called the touchdown I sprinted all the way up the side-line, only to remember I was then on field goal and had to sprint back the field. Yeah that was a lot of fun, a good experience.
What was joining the Vipers like after Warwick?
It was different. You could tell there was a lot less money involved. We didn’t have a whole changing room full of kit like we did at Warwick. Travelling out to our field was also a bit different. But perhaps because the club was so new I felt much more of a connection to all the players. We’d just started playing so everyone was far more stuck into it. I think at that point it helped that I had changed as a person from Warwick to be more, not necessarily assertive, but I was far more outgoing.
This is an opportunity I’ve never had in terms of being a club that’s just started. Getting promoted in our second BUCs season was crazy. I’ve also never really captained a team before, the last time I was about 11. It’s not something I wish to shy away from, but it’s a bit weird. When I first got called as a captain I wasn’t expecting it at all, I had just joined the club. When I saw I was nominated for Captain of the Year I thought – I don’t know what’s going on anymore!
At what point did you start to notice things weren’t quite right?
It was around the 6th or 7th game [Late February] that I was diagnosed with asthma. I was considered asthmatic for two weeks until the ultrasound came back on my neck. Then doctors told me it was much more serious, it could either be an infection, TB, or Lymphoma. That night I was on the phone with my friend crying for a few hours. I don’t really know what I was feeling at that point. A lot of it was terror. The hardest part of the diagnosis was actually before I got diagnosed. It was pretty obvious I didn’t have TB. If I had TB, surely I would have been quarantined or something. By the time they pulled me in after all the scans and the biopsy, it was pretty obvious that it was Lymphoma. That and the first day of treatment were the hardest moments of it all. I was loving football and somewhat enjoying myself on the university course – which felt as good as it was ever going to get with uni. I thought I was going to have to start again which really sucked.
The thing with Lymphoma is a lot of the symptoms are really casual. As in you get itchy all over, and I had a cough. That’s why they thought I was asthmatic. At the start, it felt like a common cold. It was around the end of February that it got worse. Then in March it really hit a wall. I’d already been struggling before that. I pretty much didn’t attend university in term two. It was just football on Fridays, game on Sunday. That was all I could really do. To the point that I would go outside and then be in a coughing fit for hours after I got back in. That was quite disheartening, so I didn’t really interact with anyone outside football then.
It must have been hard on your family?
It was pretty hard; for my mum especially. We’ve had cancer in the family. Her dad had stomach cancer and passed away because of it. I think she saw a link between them. My dad was a bit better about it, but we all struggled. My brother especially, with him as the older sibling. It was shocking for everyone. We just didn’t really see it coming.
The diagnosis helped. I didn’t do that much research, but I’d say it helped my family more because they got a lot of information and it was like, I’m going to be OK. It may take a while, but I’m not going to die. It helped me start to move on and think forward, especially regarding post treatment stuff. I didn’t really know what was going to happen during it. I didn’t really look up chemotherapy or any kind of treatment and what happens next but still, in my mind, it made it a lot easier because it now had a name. It wasn’t something nameless that I couldn’t deal with.
What happened after the diagnosis?
Chemotherapy started just after exams. At that point I had to plan to do them because I’d still sort of been keeping up with work. I actually did one exam then deferred the rest of them. It wasn’t that bad, but there was a short period as I was having my blood done when it was kind of like, oh this is actually real, it’s starting now. I suppose it was quite scary, but I was fortunate to have transferred hospitals. I was diagnosed in Croydon University hospital and they sent me over to the Royal Marsden which has a young people ward which is really nice, everyone there was great. Not to say the Croydon ward would be bad, but the amount of money put into the Marsden is amazing. I was fortunate to have been there. They have a lot of support staff. In that first week I had already spoken to the youth officer Ella, and you always get someone from CLIC Sargent who is there to help you with anything you need. They helped with a lot of the uni stuff, keeping in contact about what was going on.
By far the worst part of chemo was just sitting at home; I couldn’t get on public transport due to the infection risk. Right after my first round of chemo woke up in the morning and I was throwing up so had to go to A&E that morning. There’s a hotline you can call and we were asked if we were on a list but we didn’t know about it, and so they sent us to Croydon hospital. The moment I took paracetamol that morning, everything went back to normal apart from my pulse. They kept me in for 2 nights and half a day because my pulse wouldn’t come down. It was frustrating because I wasn’t getting any medicine and none of them were authorised to give me my chemo medicine, so my parents had to come in and give me that.
The doctors would come round and ask me how I was feeling, I would say “well I’ve just started chemo so I’m not feeling great.” That was really frustrating. During the actual chemo, that was probably the most annoying part and it wasn’t even directly related, which was quite unfortunate. I never had to go back to A&E but I kept to myself because it was such a bad start, I didn’t want that to happen again.
What was support like from outside of your immediate family?
It was really good. I didn’t post it publicly, only the Vipers as a group knew. I had a lot of people wanting to see me, but we had to turn them away in case they were carrying anything. It meant a lot to get messages from everyone. Even if I didn’t reply, it really meant a lot. I’m not the best at expressing that but it was really helpful, especially at the beginning when it’s scariest and you don’t know what’s going on. To know that people care helps.
That was one thing I was worried about. When you’re reading up on this, people talking about the lymphoma they’ve had and the cancer they’ve gone through, a lot of them are famous people. One of the things Coach Chris sent me was a college player [John Connor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Steelers] who got a message from Ellen Degeneres. I thought, well, where’s my message from Ellen? But it was really good to have people contacting me. It gave me something to look forward to when I was finally back, to get out and see these people again, because they actually care. It was nice.
Was coming back to university this year on your mind when you started chemo?
“Absolutely not. When I started it was, ‘I guess I’m taking another year out.’ When we saw the way the cycles lined up, it was fortunate. It could have been 4-6 cycles and each cycle being 3 weeks, but I was there for 12 weeks because after 2 weeks you have a scan which came up completely clear after the second round of chemo. That was the start of July, two to three months after diagnosis. The scan was completely clear, so I was in remission. You get an all clear two to three years after remission so there’s every chance it could come back. It’s not fully over yet, but obviously we’re hoping. And I responded quickly to the treatment. I didn’t know what was to come when I got the remission news but I knew I didn’t have to put my life on hold again.
So was there a moment you decided you were going to try to come back this year?
Yes there was. My parents said I should do my exams, move on, get the degree, because they know I don’t enjoy the academics of uni. I just thought why don’t I just do it next year? I had every reason to take this year out and go and get better. But then my brother spoke to me and said, “do you really want to explain this to every employer you go to? You’ve already taken a year out.” That was when I knew I had to try to come back. It’s not that I’m ashamed of this, but don’t want to let it define me in the future. My brother had to resit a year and spoke about how getting back into it was one of the hardest things he’s done. So I thought I’ve been through this so might as well give it a go. That was four days before exams started, so it was short notice.
Timeline wise, the day after the last cycle of chemo finished was the first [September] exam so I didn’t have any time off and wasn’t feeling the best. You’re coming out of the rest week of chemo basically, so I hadn’t been on anything for a week, but I was still tired constantly – I was on about three Monster [energy drink] a day just to be able to do enough work to pass and, fortunately, I did.
What are your goals going forward?
To be honest when I was thinking about coming back for this year, most of my reason was football. I doubt I would have come back if not for football. It’s because of this unique position we’re in. We have a chance to do something special with this group of people. Whenever I am out there, even when I was really ill – especially by the last game – I was still going as hard as I could. If you’re here, why not go all out and see how far you can really take it? That’s why I want to push everyone at the club. You’re already here, you’ve made it out here, so let’s see what we can do.
I’m not willing to stop like I did last time. If the cancer does come back I’m not that fussed. I’ve beat it once and I’ll beat it again. I can’t do anything about it, so I just don’t think about it. Either it comes back, or it doesn’t.
In May the thought of returning to university was out of the question, now five months later, Mide is back at university and has returned to the Vipers as the starting left tackle for the upcoming season.
The way he has handled the situation is testament to his incredible character and determination.
He is still waiting on his invite to the Ellen Show.