Hay – who played 23 internationals for Scotland between 1975 and 1982 – was suffering from a brain tumour when he died aged 57 in 2007.
His daughter Lyndsey Cornet has told how both her young sons have been diagniosed with tumours, with her youngest boy believed to have the same condition which Hay had.
The mother-of-two and both Hay’s grandsons are now going through a series of DNA tests to see if they have a faulty gene that can be passed on to family members.
Chris, 2, and one year-old Lyle – have both been treated for tumours. Chris had a benign tumour removed last year and now the family has learned that Lyle has a particularly aggressive tumour which doctors say they will not be able to remove.
Lyndsey, 23, of Edinburgh, said: “Doctors say it is unusual for both the boys to have tumours at such a young age and obviously with what happened to my dad has raised questions about whether we carry a faulty gene.
“It’s so sad watching the boys go through this. I was 15 when my dad died and I remember seeing what his tumour did to him. Now I am seeing the same with my boys. But dad stayed strong and brave to the end and I will do the same for my boys.”
The health worker told how Chris endured a seven-hour operation to remove a tumour in his pelvis and bowel last August. Tests showed it was benign but he still has to be regularly monitored to ensure it does not return or another tumour grows.
And in January this year when Lyle was just nine months old he was taken to hospital with an infection. His parents were also worried about him starting to shake on the left side of his body. A MRI scan revealed he had a large tumour around his brain which doctors say he will require him to use a wheelchair and get round-the-clock care. Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Lyndsey said: “He has had lots of tests and we have been told he has a brain tumour which is pressing against his optic nerves, in an area which means he can;t ever be operated on as the procedure would kill him. He will need chemotherapy and radiotherapy, just like what dad went through.”
“It all started with his left eye and then spread to other parts of his body. Dad shook the same way at times so we knew something was up. But to learn he had a brain tumour too, well nothing prepares you for that.”
Consultants have now told Lyndsey and husband TJay, 24, an apprentice joiner, they do not know how long Lyle has to live. He continues to be tested and monitored and has been given medicine used by Parkinson’s Disease patients to help lessen his shaking.
Lyndsey said: “We don’t know what the future holds and are living each day as it comes. To look at Lyle you’d never know he was so poorly. He is all smiles.”
Doctors have told the family the boys may carry a faulty family gene and have begun testing theirs and their parents’ DNA to find out.
Lyndsey, the late rugby star’s only child, said she was gaining strength from the fight her fullback father put up after he was diagnosed with his tumour in 2005. She said: “They say it might just be passed down the male line or that I might have this too. They have said because Lyle’s tumour is so similar to my dad’s that it looks like it is genetic.
“It breaks my heart to have to go through all this all over again. But in a way seeing what happened to my dad has made me a bit more ready for this challenge.
“I know to make every single day count. We did that with dad and he was so brave and strong and we will be too.
She added: “I was a right daddy’s girl and would spend most weekends with him when he was out watching rugby while my mum was off shopping, I wasn’t into that.
“He was a big guy who didn’t take much nonsense but he had such a soft heart, Obviously for him to go from this big sports guy to the way he was before he died was heart-breaking. Now the same lies ahead for Lyle.”
Cancer experts say a small proportion of brain tumours are related to known genetic conditions and having a close relative with the condition puts you at a higher risk than other people.
Hay’s widow Lynda said: “Seeing Lyle start to go through what Bruce did is heart breaking. He would be very proud of how Lyndsey and his grandsons are coping.”
The family has now decided to hold a fundraising dinner in the late rugby star’s name to raise money for Lyle who will need extra care and support and to adapt the family home to accommdate his needs.
Former Scotland rugby stars – including Andy Irvine, Sean Lineen, Norman Rowan and Howard Hashlet – and Hay’s British Lions’ captain Bill Beaumont, a former captain on BBC’s A Question of Sport, will be among the speakers at The Bruce Hay Memorial Dinner at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange on 17 September.
Last night Andy Irvine, a former president of the Scottish Rugby Union and a former Scottish international rugby player, said: “Bruce a great guy, a real family man. He was extremely popular with those who played with him and against him. The great thing about rugby is everyone rallies round to help and I will do all I can to help his grandsons. Sadly he never got to see either of them.”
The family will also be auctioning off a number of Hay’s rugby blazers and memorabilia including commemorative plates.
Edinburgh-born Hay made his Scotland debut against New Zealand in 1975. He won 23 caps and was selected for the British and Irish Lions tours to New Zealand and South Africa in 1977 and 1980. He made his final international appearance against the All Blacks in 1982. He later coached the Scotland Under-19 team.