Stevenage mixed martial artist battling cancer in his biggest fight

Stevenage MMA fighter Dylan Evans (right) continues to train despite battling Hodgkin's lymphoma. Pi

Stevenage MMA fighter Dylan Evans (right) continues to train despite battling Hodgkin's lymphoma. Picture: Dylan Evans - Credit: Archant

On a cold January night at the start of this year, Stevenage’s Dylan Evans woke up dripping with sweat and with a lump on his neck.

Dylan has been undergoing chemotherapy since being diagnosed in January. Picture: Dylan Evans

Dylan has been undergoing chemotherapy since being diagnosed in January. Picture: Dylan Evans - Credit: Archant

It was the beginning of what he has described as a “mental year”.

“I was in hospital for five days and I had a scan,” he recalled.

“I asked the doctor what he thought it was. He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I think you’ve got Hodgkin’s lymphoma’.

“I can’t remember what that felt like.

“I had a biopsy as well and sat in the corridor waiting for the porters for an hour-and-a-half.

“That was the scariest 90 minutes of my life.

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“You have so many questions. They tell you they are going to cure you, but you are thinking ‘Are you? You tell everyone that’.

“I was anxious about where else it might be, going through all these checks.”

A week after discovering the lump, Dylan was officially diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

It was a crushing blow for the 23-year-old who had made a life-changing decision back in 2017.

“I left my full-time job last year and decided I was going to work towards being a professional mixed martial arts fighter.

“I can’t remember what triggered it – I must have scrolled past a video on Facebook, a Dan Hardy highlight maybe.

“I thought ‘that looks like a bit of fun, I reckon I could do that’.

“It’s hard to walk into a gym full of cage fighters and say I want to be a fighter.

“I rang up the gym for like a week and no one answered, so I just decided to turn up. I’ve never looked back really.

“At first it was a hobby, but then I wanted to fight – I want to test myself.

“I’ve not found something that tests me like MMA does.”

Before his cancer diagnosis, Evans had stepped inside the octagon on six occasions.

Fighting at welterweight, he won two fights and lost four.

Despite not being able to fight, incredibly, Dylan has continued to train while undergoing gruelling chemotherapy.

“It takes me 10 times more effort to train than it used to,” he said.

“If I was going to do pads with my coach before, I would be there for an hour-and-a-half to two hours, probably doing 10 or 15 rounds.

“At the moment, I’m doing five two-minute rounds, so 10 minutes of constant work.

“It’s hard, but it’s worth doing. I do what I can.

“At first the cardio was really tough because one of the drugs was detrimental to my lungs, but I’ve dropped that now.

“It’s now more the build up of lactic acid in my muscles. I do 10 jabs and it feels like I’ve done 100 because I have to get injections to increase my white blood cells, and my bones ache as well.

“If I feel like I can’t train I won’t because my body is going through a lot and it doesn’t really have what it needs to recover.

“I don’t push myself to the point where my recovery from chemo would suffer, but I am the only person who knows what my body is capable of at the moment.”

With just one chemotherapy session left, Dylan has his sights set on returning to the octagon.

“My doctor hasn’t experienced someone of my age who has been doing what I’m doing, so they’ve not set a timescale on my return to the octagon,” he explained.

“Again, it’s only me who knows what my body is capable of.

“I am going to try to turn it around as quickly as I can just to prove anything is possible.”

Dylan believes that MMA has helped him get through his Hodgkin’s diagnosis and called for others in a similar situation to remain positive.

He said: “It’s my passion, it’s the fuel to my fire and it’s what I want to do.

“Sitting on the fact that I’m going through what I’m going through was slumping me and making me feel down.

“Regardless of how hard it gets, you’ve just got to keep going.

“If you sink into that place of ‘why me, I feel so bad’, you are going to feel worse.

“You can make yourself feel better by having a positive mindset. I learned that pretty quickly.”

When Dylan does return to fighting, he knows that not a single fighter standing opposite him will pose a greater challenge than the one he has already faced.

“When you’ve been that low and you approach life with a positive mindset you can beat anything,” he said.

“I’ve had a brush with death, so I’ve won my biggest fight.”

You can follow Dylan’s progress on Twitter @dylanevansmma