John Hartson’s goal is to build new Maggie’s Centre

CELTIC legend John Hartson, who survived a battle with cancer, wants to fund a new centre to help patients going through the same traumatic experience he and his family faced.

The former footballer, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer which spread to his lungs and brain in 2009, is aiming to raise enough money to pay for a new Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre after he started supporting the charity during his own treatment.

His John Hartson Foundation has a number of fund-raising projects planned in Scotland to help push them towards this goal, including a hike up Ben Nevis he is planning to take part in next year.

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Hartson said he did not know where he wanted the new centre to be, but was keen for it to follow the work done by the other Maggie’s centres – including a new centre in Swansea he will open next month.

Scotland on Sunday, and sister paper The Scotsman, have also linked up with Maggie’s for our Christmas campaign to help raise even more funds for the charity, which has centres helping cancer patients across the UK.

Hartson, who spent five seasons with Celtic and scored 89 goals for the club, said one of the reasons he was keen to support Maggie’s was that his oncologist, Dr Gianfilippo Bertelli, was also a supporter of the charity.

“He was the man who saved my life,” Hartson said. “Dr Bertelli told me that he was very, very close to Maggie’s centres and he supported them himself.

“So it was a way of me giving something back to him – I will never be able to thank him for saving my life. There’s not enough things in the world I can do for him. I decided that by supporting Maggie’s I was giving something back to him.”

The Welshman, who lives in Swansea but frequently comes to Glasgow for work and family visits, said that through his foundation he had made Maggie’s and some local charities the focus of fund-raising efforts.

“The main one will be Maggie’s centres, which are places when you are going through chemotherapy you can go to and the staff can help you. You can talk to them and there are comfy chairs and pillows and tea and coffee and biscuits.

“It is just a really nice place you can go and feel in a really nice environment with people who have been through similar things as yourself.”

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The 36-year-old footballer said ultimately he would like to fund a new Maggie’s centre through his charity work. There are currently 15 centres open or in development 15 years after the first was established in Edinburgh.

“The larger our charity becomes hopefully we’ll raise enough money to fund a new Maggie’s,” he said.

“A lot of that depends on the support for my charity and then what we will give Maggie’s. It does not happen overnight, it accumulates gradually as people support you. But as we do raise enough one of our ambitions is to be able to invest in our own Maggie’s.”

Hartson said he did not yet know where in the country he would like the new centre to be. “It could be in west Wales, or Cardiff or Yorkshire or Scotland,” he said. “I am open to anywhere really.”

Father-of-four Hartson’s own cancer battle began in 2009 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer after ignoring a lump for four years.

The disease spread to his lungs and brain, leading to emergency surgery and gruelling rounds of chemotherapy.

But despite the challenges he faced, he now appears to be winning the fight and says he is feeling good, having annual check-ups to make sure the disease shows no signs of returning.

“You’re never really all clear as a cancer patient. It could come back tomorrow or in 20 years. So you never really feel like you are out of the woods. You can have days when you feel great and other days when you don’t feel so good.

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“But for today, I am all clear and it is weeks and months at a time. I genuinely feel quite healthy.”

He added: “Why I came through it I can’t explain because cancer has taken bigger men than me in its time. I was dreadfully ill and at times people thought I was going to die.

“This kind of time for the whole family is not something I would want anyone else to go through. I went to a very, very dark place and it is something that will always be with me.”

In between spending time with his children and second wife Sarah, Hartson is now busy planning events with his foundation, including a bike ride ending at Celtic Park and the hike up Ben Nevis that he will take part in on 14 July – the anniversary of his emergency brain surgery and also his daughter’s birthday.

He also spends time talking to cancer patients who use the Maggie’s centres and are going through the same experience he did.