Popular Ayr rugby player Robbie Fergusson has set his sights on returning to the pitch during October following six months of treatment for cancer.
The former Scotland under-20 player, who burst into the first team at Millbrae aged 17 when he was still at Wellington School in Ayr, has been a big player for them in recent seasons and helped them win the league and cup double in 2012-13.
Around Christmas time 2013 he began to feel slightly sluggish while he was at training and playing in matches and had a cough, but at first he just thought he had caught a bug that was doing the rounds at that time of year. Over the early weeks of this year he saw the doctor at the club, Graham Hollins, and his own GP, but antibiotics did not seem to improve the situation.
Fergusson, who recently turned 21, explained: “I was generally just feeling like I had no energy while I also had a really bad cough that I could not shift. It all came to a head when we travelled to take on Gala in March.
“During the pre-match warm-up I was just doing some running and then I was sick at the side of the pitch. I said to the head coach at the time, Peter Laverie, that I would be struggling to start the match and I sat it out on the bench.
“Early the next week I went to the hospital and had X-rays and lots of tests done and when the doctor started to talk about tumours I began to get worried. When he said it looked like it was a type of cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma all sorts of things started running through my head.
“I was only 20 at the time and my parents were away on that day so I was really in a bit of shock to be honest. I went home and told my sister and she phoned my mum and dad and explained to them.”
Once the news had sunk in, Fergusson headed to the rugby club and the first person he told was the club doctor. Fergusson found that really helpful as he could ask him other questions that he still wanted answers to while Hollins gathered all of the players and coaches together and told them the news.
“I guess I was a bit nervous about telling all of my friends and team-mates down at the club, but they have all just been absolutely brilliant with me,” said Fergusson.
“Rugby clubs by their nature are quite macho environments and there is always a lot of banter flying around, but when something like this happens you see another side to a lot of people and realise everyone has issues or problems outwith rugby.
“A lot of the guys have talked very candidly to me about problems they have faced previously and it helped me to really focus on my recovery. The whole club has really rallied round and I have been quite humbled by it all.”
Among the gestures from the club the Ladies Lunch at the end of August, organised by Eilidh Rankin, raised nearly £4,000 for CLIC Sargent, the charity that helps young people with cancer.
Soon after he was told that he had Hodgkin lymphoma Fergusson began his treatment. It required him to head to the hospital every two weeks for six months for chemotherapy.
He said: “At first it was pretty daunting and I was worried about the side effects, but with the treatment on a Wednesday I was usually fine again by the Sunday after a few days of tiredness and sometimes sickness.
“At the start in April and May I was still at university [he is currently on a sports coaching course at the University of West of Scotland] and although they said I could take some time out or defer I wanted to push on with my exams and I managed to do that.
“During the months of treatment I was also very keen to keep involved at the rugby club because I am one of the coaches on the Ayr Rugby Academy where we work closely with the best young players in the area from S2 upwards. I love that, while I also help coach our ladies team and keeping on doing those sorts of things, as well as watching the first XV, has made me feel a part of things.
“I just tried to get myself through four sessions of chemo, then six and so on and last week when I finished my 12th session I was really chuffed. The signs, so far touch wood, are good that I will make a full recovery, but this time out has really made me realise what a great thing the rugby community is and also never to take anything for granted.”
The sight of Fergusson back in training at Millbrae in recent days has been the cause for much celebration at the club and he is now working hard to try and get back on the pitch.
On 11 October, the Ayr first XV play Currie in a league match while the second XV take on Aberdeen Grammar.
Fergusson is eyeing a return for one of the teams on that day and whenever he is back there will be plenty people in Scottish rugby wishing him well.