Part I: Written June 17

In April my father-in-law was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer. He’s part of the unlucky 15% to get this type of cancer despite never touching a cigarette in his life. These past few months I’ve watched him undergo more than any man should ever have to and it’s taken its toll not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. 

We were told the most important thing during this time would be stepping up the support from family and friends. Now, men aren’t always the best at communicating such messages and too often we rely on a conduit to help the process. For my father-in-law and I that conduit has always been sports. 

At this point, my Everton obsession was well underway so I invited him to our apartment one Sunday morning to watch a match. We played West Ham and ended up losing 2-1, going the last half hour down a man after Michael Keane’s red card. It was ugly to say the least. I was convinced my father-in-law would never come back – what was supposed to be a “pick-me-up” turned into a shouting match between me and the TV. 

But to my surprise, he came back the following Sunday. And every weekend after. 


On May 18th, my father-in-law had a procedure lasting 12 hours in total. Doctors spent the first six hours removing his entire voice box, 60 lymph nodes and one of his jugular veins. The second half of the surgery they put in a prosthetic voice box and did a skin graft on this thigh to patch up his throat and neck area. It was a brutally long day – the anesthesiologist put him under at 9am and he didn’t come-to until middle of the night.  

When my wife and mother-in-law visited him the next morning, he was groggy and uncomfortable with wires and tubes coming out of him from all directions. That first day was busy with constant check-ins by doctors and nurses, but there was another appointment on the schedule at 2:45pm: Everton vs. Crystal Palace. Arguably the biggest game in our club’s Premier League history, there was no way he was going to miss it. 

It’s impossible to describe the emotion of that match to a non-Evertonian. The first half couldn’t have gone any worse, and we walked into the locker room down 2-0. I couldn’t believe it – we were at Goodison Park in front of our incredible supporters and we were folding like a cheap party chair. 

Ten minutes after the break though, hope was reignited as Michael Keane demonstrated unbelievable composure in Palace’s box, striking the ball beautifully into the side net (and making up for that West Ham red card). At that moment I knew we were getting our three points.

Twenty minutes later Richarlison scored in perfect Richarlison fashion. Tie game. Then came the moment we were all waiting for. Seamus Coleman battled for possession the way he always does and earned a free kick 35 yards out. Demarai Grey took it flawlessly, finding Dominic Calvert-Lewin for a perfect header. Naturally, I took my shirt off and ran around the apartment screaming at the top of my lungs. When I got back to the couch, I had a text from my mother-in-law: 

Mr. R is dancing in his hospital bed.

We celebrated with every Evertonian across the globe. (I swear half of them were on the pitch at Goodison). Clinching top flight survival showed us that all of our belief wasn’t in vain. Clinching top flight survival was a middle finger to despair and a sign of better days to come, even for a guy in the hospital facing such a wicked disease. 


Part II: Written August 5

My father-in-law is still fighting. Doctors continue to be shocked by the aggressiveness of his cancer, and less than a month after surgery his scans showed the disease had already begun growing back. Three weeks ago, he started yet another round of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. I’m not going to lie; things have been really difficult. The treatment is kicking his ass – he’s constantly nauseous from the chemotherapy and has terrible blisters both inside and outside of his throat, making it a challenge to eat and drink. And on top of that, they won’t allow him to start speech therapy until after his radiation burns heal, so his communication is still very limited as he struggles to use the prosthetic voice-box. 

Everton are still fighting as well. It certainly hasn’t been a pretty pre-season, with a very slow start to the transfer window, protests from supporters outside of Goodison, and a few (very) unconvincing performances during our trip to the States. Yet, we all remain hopeful that the upcoming season will be different than the last. Tomorrow we’ll welcome Chelsea to a rocking Goodison park, kicking off a new campaign to show why we belong in the Premier League. Just like my father-in-law, we have a long way to go, but a fresh start gives us all hope that better days are coming. 

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Reader Comments (4)

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Jim Lloyd
1 Posted 08/08/2022 at 09:14:44
Stephen, what a fighter your father-in-law is. I wish him all the luck going and that he overcomes the ravages of that horrible disease. He's an Evertonian now eh, one of us and brilliant!

Even though the result went against us yesterday, our performance was decent. Chelsea huffed and puffed but we held firm, and, except for one bit of clumsiness, we'd have got an honourable draw against a team aiming to get into the Champions League.

I'm sure we will add to our squad over the next couple of weeks, and I look at this season as stage 1 of our journey back to the top end of the table.

I don't know if you've seen it; but on YouTube there are a number of sites showing the journey our new home is taking, on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey! From a water filled Bramley-Moore Dock, to the sand filled base; and now the stands are beginning to rise, all round our new stadium. You and your father in law can look at the progress it's making.

I'm positive everyone on ToffeeWeb are rooting for him and the joy he'll get, watching our first match in our new home.

Dale Self
2 Posted 08/08/2022 at 20:57:32
Very courageous stuff Stephen. Not at all easy to realize much less share with others. There are times when someone has to tell you of an experience they've had before you can fully process your own. I didn't get the chance to share Everton football with my father who experienced the same condition but by damn I truly believe it would have been similar to your dad's reaction. Keep it going and thanks for the oh so human touch here.
Brent Stephens
3 Posted 08/08/2022 at 21:09:27
Not easy to post that, I guess, Stephen. I'm sure all on ToffeeWeb would want you to wish your father-in-law all the best.
Jack Convery
4 Posted 08/08/2022 at 22:10:35
Stephen my thoughts are with you, your father in law and all your family. Hopefully EFC will bring you and your father in law joy this season and ease the pain, however slightly. Take care, we're all with you here on TW.

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