A TRIO of front-row forwards are drawing on the support of the rugby community in a bid to kick blood cancer into touch.
Alan Bell of Haddington RFC has teamed up with Keith Wallace, a team-mate and president at the East Lothian club, and Gareth Glynn, from neighbouring Ross High RFC, to set up ‘Bloody Rugby’ to raise awareness of the disease – the fifth most common cancer in the UK – and encourage more people to sign up as blood and stem cell donors.
Bell, whose playing days have seen him represent Dunbar and Preston Lodge as well as Haddington, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in late 2018 and received a stem cell transplant the following year.
“I knew so little when I was diagnosed,” he said. “We want to raise awareness of blood cancers and just how easy it is to cure. We want people to register as stem cell donors and give blood. I was really lucky to get a family match from my sister.
“Rugby is a big part of my life and knowing Gareth had done it, that was my first knowledge of someone donating stem cells. We had a chat and decided it would make sense to set up a charity.”
Bell, who works at Tranent-based youth group Recharge, also had to undergo chemotherapy and has spent much of the past two years in isolation in his home near Dunbar.
“That was one of the most difficult parts, the isolation,” he added. “You lose all social interactions, but I suppose it’s been good practice for lockdown!”
Having initially lost in the region of 30kg, he is on the road to recovery and hopes to re-join the front-row of the Neilson Park club once grassroots rugby resumes.
Glynn, meanwhile, was a stem cell donor nearly three years ago and the Tranent resident – son of legendary fundraiser, after-dinner speaker and former Ross High president, Scott Glynn, who died last year – hopes their stories will encourage others to sign up.
“I signed up when my dad was diagnosed with cancer,” he explained. “I was called to say I was a potential match just a few weeks before my wedding, so we cancelled the honeymoon and a few days after the wedding we went down to London and donated my stem cells.
“It’s about a three or four-hour procedure and it’s nothing for people to worry about at all.”
Bloody Rugby has had good initial support from the clubs in East Lothian, and the hope is to now gather more backing across Scotland.
“When I signed up there was only a one per cent chance of getting a match,” said Glynn. “That means there’s not enough donors registered, and we want to get the rugby family involved because there is really no sport like it in terms of camaraderie.”
As well as encouraging clubs to get involved, Bloody Rugby is offering a ‘Bloody Buddies’ scheme of support for anyone who has been diagnosed with blood cancer, concerned relatives, or has concerns about donating stem cells.
To find out more, visit www.bloodyrugby.co.uk
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