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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 23:33 GMT
'Being alive is all that counts'
By Thrasy Petropoulos

Alan Igglesden
Alan Igglesden in his playing days
Five years have passed since Alan Igglesden, the former Kent and England fast bowler, was found to have an inoperable brain tumour.

Since then one of his closest friends and county colleagues, Richard Davis, was diagnosed with a similar condition and died, aged 37.

And both his car sponsor and another good friend, who worked on his testimonial year in 1998, were found to have brain tumours and have subsequently died.

In the case of Davis the coincidence runs further still.

The best 'worst' thing that has happened to me.
Alan Igglesden
As youngsters they signed their first professional contracts for the same county on the same day.

"These are all men relevant to my life, not just people I have met through having this illness," said Igglesden.

He could have added that, as a former sportsman, he could not help but have been affected by the recent death of Emlyn Hughes from a brain tumour.

It is with some surprise, therefore, that Igglesden refers to it as: "The best 'worst' thing that has happened to me."

That he is living a normal life, teaching cricket, rugby and other sports at Sutton Valence school in Kent, is the reason for the positive outlook.

Few could imagine, however, the life-changing sequence of events that he underwent.

He had only recently retired as a professional cricketer - itself an enormous change in circumstances for someone good enough to rise to England level but, through injury and competition, play no more than a handful of Tests - when he suffered an epileptic fit.

Routine scan

A month later an MRI scan - routine for all first-time sufferers of epilepsy - revealed abnormalities.

First class career
154 first class matches
503 wickets
Average: 26.81
Best bowling: 7 for 28
Three test matches
And two weeks after that he was being told that he had a level two oligodendroglioma, serious enough to be treated with radiotherapy but below the level classed as malignant, and that he had had it for 15, possibly 20 years.

Initially the news was good as three-monthly scans showed the cancer had regressed slightly, but a scan 18 months ago revealed that it had grown once again.

He was immediately prescribed chloripramine, an anti-depressant that, accidentally, was found to help treat brain tumours and is visibly confident that it will again be controlled.

Professor Geoffrey Pilkington, a leading cancer specialist who contacted Igglesden with the offer of help and advice, does not mince his words when talking about brain tumours.

"I've been studying them since 1971 and I can tell you that there was more money to fund research in the early seventies than there is now," he said.

"The EU call it an 'orphan disease', meaning that it is not as prevalent as other cancers and therefore requires less funding.

Environmental factors

"The problem is that most people with brain tumours have a poor prognosis. But there has been a 2% increase in the instances of the disease in the developed world.

I could physically feel it in my head.
Alan Igglesden
"Some of that can be attributed to the growing elderly population and therefore to an increase in cancers generally.

"But there is clear evidence to show that there are increased environmental risks leading to the development of brain tumours. What those risks are as yet are unknown.

"The other thing is that 25% of all cancers will get in to the brain if left to develop, rising to 40% in skin cancers. George Harrison had throat cancer but he died because it had metastasised to the brain.

"On the other hand virtually all primary brain tumours remain in the brain.

"It affects more men than women but it does affect women too, and all sections of society, all weights, all nationalities, all ages.

"In cancers that develop from birth to the age of 16, 25% are of the brain, second only to leukaemia at 30%."

Positive outlook

But Igglesden is genuinely optimistic.

Partly that is due to his feeling of wellbeing compared to his symptoms before the scan that revealed the cancer had grown.

"I knew before they told me," he said. "I had had headaches and some nausea. It sounds disgusting but late at night, when I couldn't sleep, I could physically feel it in my head."

Just as important is a new take on life.

"I rarely get upset any more or lose my temper," he said.

"I'm trying to teach my wife and everyone around me that it doesn't matter. You're alive.

"I've become involved with the UK Brain Tumour Association, fund-raising with yearly golf days and cricket matches. I've also done some telephone counselling with children with brain tumours.

"There's probably never a minute in the day when I don't think about it, but it doesn't stop me being a happy person."

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