The Greatest Test of All

By Armstrong, Rebecca | The Independent (London, England), April 1, 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Greatest Test of All

Armstrong, Rebecca, The Independent (London, England)

When Alan Igglesden learnt he had a brain tumour, he feared the worst. Ten years on, the former cricketer is fit - thanks to a new drug treatment. By Rebecca Armstrong

Alan Igglesden was no stranger to hospitals during his career as a Kent and England cricketer. "I've had three slipped discs, five knee operations, a hernia and two stress fractures of the shin, and I threw my shoulder out more times than I can remember," says the former fast bowler.

But nothing could prepare him for what happened after he gave up playing professionally. "In June 1999, about a year after I gave up professional cricket, I started having a fit while I was asleep," the 43-year-old says. "My wife Sara put me in the recovery position and called the ambulance. I was discharged the next morning, but I had no recollection of what had happened."

The next few weeks saw Igglesden struggling to come to terms with the idea that he might be epileptic, but when he went for an MRI scan - standard medical procedure for anyone who has suffered a seizure for the first time - the news was much, much worse. "I went from thinking I had epilepsy to finding out I had a brain tumour. I'd had a month to try to come terms with having epilepsy at the age of 34, and then, when I was told I had a brain tumour, it was absolutely horrific.

"I wasn't offered counselling or rushed into treatment - it doesn't happen that fast. It was a month or two before I could see a specialist and have a biopsy. That's when I was told that the tumour was inoperable," he says.

"It was the worst moment of my life. I automatically thought I had just six months to live. I felt my body go ice cold. Sara and I were distraught. We went into the car park and cracked up in each other's arms, crying our eyes out." Igglesden had a grade two oligodendroglioma - serious enough to be treated with radiotherapy but below the level classed as malignant.

But, although Igglesden thought his diagnosis was a death sentence, nearly 10 years later he is alive, well and playing cricket regularly in his job as a sports master at Sutton Valence school in Kent. "When I was diagnosed, I never thought that almost a decade on I'd be teaching sport," he says. "About a year after the diagnosis, I went to the school to speak to them about maybe doing some coaching and I ended up starting the very next day. I've been there ever since."

One of the reasons why Igglesden is doing so well has to be his attitude to life. "I've always been very positive and it's in my nature to be laid-back, which has often helped. In terms of the future, I just try to take each day as it comes. The tumour doesn't stop me doing anything at all and although bungee jumping isn't part of the equation, I've managed to go hang-gliding in Turkey and cage- diving among great white sharks in South Africa."

Another reason is that he had the good fortune to meet a cricket- crazy cancer specialist, Professor Geoff Pilkington, who had just the drug to treat him. "I saw Alan's name come in on one of the biopsy forms, and as I was a bit of a cricket fanatic I popped over to have a chat," Pilkington says. "Alan had had radiation therapy but needed something else. Conventional drug therapy can be rather toxic and for someone as fit and well and strong as Alan, that would have knocked him for six."

Pilkington prescribed Igglesden a drug called chloripramine. "It's actually a tricyclic antidepressant drug used for patients with obsessive compulsive syndrome or clinical depression, which is about 40 years old," he says. "Basically, the drug tells tumour cells to commit suicide. We've been treating a number of people with it, including some with grade four - the most serious - tumours. The mean survival time without the drug is usually around three months, but we've had some of those patients surviving for seven years."

Igglesden has been taking the drug for four years and is pleased with the results.

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