Hartpury RFC player Rhys Oakley has faced many tough battles in more than 16 years as a professional sportsman.
But nothing that has happened on the field of play could have prepared the 37-year-old for the news that he received after attending hospital for a routine ankle operation.
Rhys was concerned about some chest pains and breathlessness during his early pre-season training at Hartpury, so doctors instructed him to have further tests before going under anaesthetic for ankle surgery.
“I went for a CT scan with the cardiologist and they found a large mass lump in my chest cavity behind my breast plate, slightly pushing against my heart, which is what was making it hard to breathe,” he explained.
“They initially thought it could be a lymphoma or some kind of cancerous mass but weren’t sure, so they needed to do a biopsy and blood tests.
“I had those things done, and it came back that it’s a form of testicular cancer that has not grown in my testicles but has grown in my chest.”
Oakley is now undergoing treatment for the condition, known as metastatic testicular cancer.
Rugby breeds a strong team ethic and this is especially true at Hartpury College and University Centre, where many players – some of whom have been at the club since arriving as 16-year old sixth formers – live, work and play together for nine months of the year.
The squad quickly mobilised themselves to provide support not only for Oakley, who has a young family, but also for the specialist local charity, It’s in the Bag, which focuses on the needs of testicular cancer sufferers across the South West of England and beyond.
A sponsored head shave took place yesterday at the Hartpury Sports Academy, with proceeds to be divided between the Oakley family and the charity.
All of the Hartpury RFC squad went under the clippers, courtesy of TR’s Barbershop in Gloucester, and so far their efforts have raised more than £6,600.
All money raised from a collection and the sale of programmes at Hartpury’s home match against Yorkshire Carnegie on Friday will also be donated to the fund.
Hartpury Head Coach Mark Cornwell said: “Rhys has been an outstanding player for Hartpury for the last three years and captained the squad, led by example and used his experience and maturity.
“He’s going to be a big loss for us but, obviously, the most important thing is for him to focus on his treatment and recovery and we wish him all the best for that.
“He’s a strong character and I’m sure that if anyone’s going to pull through something like this, Rhys will. Let’s hope the outcome is good for him.”
If you’d like to support the fundraising efforts, please visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/hartpuryheadshave
Picture: Rhys Oakley