A once talented teenage footballer is using this year’s World Cup tournament to raise awareness of the brain tumor that has threatened his life and ruined his dreams.
Ollie Leach played soccer for 11 years and was on the verge of a professional career when he started experiencing double vision at age 18.
He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer but underwent successful private surgery in 2020 after raising £30.00 for treatment.
Ollie, now 21, hopes to raise awareness of his condition by doing 10,000 keepy-uppies during the World Cup.
He will be joined by his former Milton Keynes Dons football club team mates who are contributing to the One Million Keepy Uppy Challenge.
The challenge was organized by the charity Brain Tumor Research.
Ollie said: ‘I wasn’t really aware of what brain tumors were before I was diagnosed with one, but now I hear more and more about them and I’m amazed at how many people they affect.
“I don’t think I would have discovered my cancer if it hadn’t been for playing football, and certainly not so early.
“I am aware that not everyone with a brain tumor has the same experience as me, so I consider myself very lucky and want to do what I can to help others.”
Ollie has started noticing his double vision during football games. He remembers that he should have guessed where the ball was as it came towards him.
Ollie from Baldock, Hertfordshire, said: ‘It was March 2020, the day before we went into a national lockdown, when I got the call telling me I had a mass in my brain.
“It was a lot to figure out and it didn’t feel real because I was so healthy and exercised a lot and ate well.”
Ollie had been playing football with Baldock Town FC since he was seven years old and went on to play for Milton Keynes Dons when he was just 13.
After exploring natural alternatives and a ketogenic diet when he was first diagnosed with low-grade germinoma, the tumor has continued to grow.
Due to the lockdown, Ollie has opted not to tell many people his news.
However, her phone “exploded” after her family decided to fund a trip to Turkey for private treatment.
Thanks to the generosity of friends and family they raised £25,000 of the £30,000 needed in one day.
In September 2020 Ollie flew to Istanbul to have his tumor removed.
He said: “The operation took eight hours and my surgeon said it was the most difficult he had performed in his 25-year career.
“I woke up in the ICU knowing I was fine because I wasn’t blind or paralyzed, which were some of the risks I had been warned about.
“But I had a condition called Parinaud syndrome, which makes you stare down your eyes.
“It got better after a few days, but I still see double when I’m not looking straight ahead.
“My surgeon told me he couldn’t wait for me to play football again, but I couldn’t.”
He is now “enjoying college life” as a physiotherapy student in York.
She said: ‘I’m hoping a second surgery will help this because it’s uncomfortable having to close one eye to read or see things properly.
“It’s unlikely they’ll ever be 100% better, but I’m used to how I am now, so any improvements are welcome.”
Charlie Allsebrook, community development manager for Brain Tumor Research, said: “Ollie’s story is a stark reminder of how indiscriminate brain tumors are, affecting anyone at any age.
“An estimated three million tickets will be sold for this year’s World Cup.
“With one in three people knowing someone with a brain tumour, this means that more than a million fans in attendance will know the pain this cruel disease causes.”
Brain tumors kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, according to the research charity.
However, historically, brain tumor research has been allocated only 1% of national cancer research spending.