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Sale CEO Sutton claims 'cancer diagnosis was a welcome relief'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Sale Sharks CEO Sid Sutton had made an extraordinary claim – that a cancer diagnosis ten years ago was the best thing to ever happen to him as if forced him to confront his mental health struggles at the time. Sutton, who took over at Sale in late 2020, underwent surgery and chemotherapy for testicular cancer at Manchester’s Christie hospital following his diagnosis in 2012.

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He has now reflected on how the illness became a positive experience as it prompted him to address the anxiety built up due to his career working in the City. “It was a complete shock but like a typical man I kept it to myself,” recalled Sale boss Sutton in an interview to mark the start of Movember, the fund-raising initiative supported by the Sharks first-team players.

“I was extremely lucky that it hadn’t gone anywhere else and wasn’t life-threatening, so I went in for an operation and that was followed up by chemotherapy. Life has got a way of telling you to slow down sometimes. Back then I was working in the City and covering Europe. I never took any time out and my mind was always elsewhere and then all of a sudden I decided I had had enough.

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“I got placed on twelve months gardening leave which sounds delightful – I could go play golf and get myself fit but actually it was the worst time of my life. I’d been on such an adrenaline rush for such a long time and for the first time in my adult life I’d slowed down. The brain didn’t like it.

“I suffered a huge amount of anxiety but being a man I didn’t share it. I thought I’d never work again if I did and I didn’t want it on my medical records. When I was diagnosed with cancer it was almost a welcome relief because I could talk about cancer and I knew I’d be looked after. My anxiety wasn’t being looked after because I couldn’t share it.

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“I kept it all bottled up but I truly believe it was the best thing that ever happened to me because I learned to cope with life in a different way. I learned to share and talk and empathise. The last ten years have all been about mental well-being and I don’t know if I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t been through all of that.”

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The November 2020 arrival of Sutton at Sale was followed two months later by the appointment of Alex Sanderson as director of rugby and the Gallagher Premiership club has become a workplace where players, coaches, and backroom are actively encouraged to share their opinions. It was only last Sunday that out-half Rob du Preez told RugbyPass about the benefits of the Sale mind gym and other recent changes.

“I never used to speak about having cancer but that experience taught me to share and to talk,” explained Sutton. “That has given me a huge drive and ambition to do more for people’s well-being and mindset and that is engrained into what we are doing here at Sale Sharks.

“One of the first things I did when I joined was change the culture to an expressive culture where people can speak their minds and have an opinion. We introduced yoga to try and connect the mind and body and we will continue to grow in this way as a club. Physical training is a huge part of the job but we haven’t scratched the surface yet in terms of the mindset.

“Leadership and showing vulnerability is key. Alex Sanderson is brilliant at doing that and once that happens it cascades down and becomes normal. Rugby is a game full of hard hits, knocks but the culture is changing, and talking about mental health is much more accepted now in this environment.

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“We want to win titles and trophies on the pitch and we have got a huge opportunity to change thousands of people’s lives off it. My biggest goal is to encourage the younger generation inside and outside the club that it is good to talk.”

  • Check out Sale Sharks’ social media channels to find out how the club is supporting Movember 2022 and click here to donate

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