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Inspiring rugby star Fenby on his recovery from cancer… and how he now wants to make a difference 

As Andrew Fenby reaches the climax of his inspiring story of recovery from not only stage two cancer, but also the loss of his business, he pauses to reveal a long scar in the center of his stomach.

It tells you everything you need to know about what has been a rough 18 months for the 36-year-old.

“It’s my crocodile bite, as my son Freddie calls it,” says Fenby sports post

Andrew Fenby with his children Freddie and Bertie during his recovery from cancer

Andrew Fenby with his children Freddie and Bertie during his recovery from cancer

Fenby's scar from the seven-hour surgery to remove cancer from his lymph nodes

Fenby’s scar from the seven-hour surgery to remove cancer from his lymph nodes

“I first noticed a problem when I put Freddie in the car and he kicked me in the right testicle. I immediately felt something was not right and booked a GP appointment who suggested it was probably just trauma and sent me away. But I should have trusted my instincts.

“I knew something wasn’t right. Unfortunately I lost nine weeks and in October 2020 I got a private scan and the consultant just swallowed.

“He said it was very likely it was testicular cancer and we needed to get moving.

“I had the right testicle removed almost immediately, but then I got a CT scan and it confirmed the cancer was stage two.

“It had gone from my testicle to my abdomen and was in my lymph nodes.

‘I had had chemotherapy for two months in December and January and had found a new job, but then we had to hunt for the lymph nodes.

“I was cut open and they took out all my entrails.

“It was a major operation in June last year. I was out for seven hours, I think.’

After 12 seasons in professional rugby and 126 tries in 214 games, North Wales Fenby retired in 2016. He had impressive spells with Scarlets in London, Ireland and Wales, as well as Newcastle.

He also came out of retirement to play for the Saracens on a short-term deal after their then-wing Chris Ashton was given a lengthy suspension for biting. He then moved on to a successful post-rugby career.

Fenby was thriving in the hustle and bustle of London’s business world and had set up his own rugby bureau when he was hit by a seismic double blow in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fenby, in the photo with his wife Henni, received a lot of support from the rugby world

Fenby, in the photo with his wife Henni, received a lot of support from the rugby world

‘A lot fell at once. You don’t expect that,” says Fenby. “Covid has decimated the rugby industry and I had to make the difficult decision to close the agency.

‘The week I closed it, I was diagnosed with cancer. Like bad weeks go, that was up there.’

Fenby is sober as he looks back on his remarkable journey, but the reality is that not many would have had the strength he showed in the face of such adversity to not only survive, but thrive.

“I have now been able to reflect on what has happened over the past 18 months,” he says. “I saw cancer as a fitness test that I was going to crush. I wouldn’t let it beat me.

“I had an athlete mentality where I was so focused and purposeful. A year ago, my family and I were going through a very difficult time. We had just had a baby, I had closed my business and then I was diagnosed with cancer. That’s difficult in any situation, but in the depth of the pandemic, we had to shut down and remain extremely isolated while I went through my treatment.

“It was really tough. One of the only silver linings of Covid was that we had temporarily moved from London back to my hometown in North Wales which meant we had the support of my parents.

“They were incredible throughout the year we spent there and I’m so grateful to them for everything they’ve done for us.

“We all got through it, but it’s only now that I really see that these were pretty dark times.

Fenby to receive the Blyth Spirit Award at the Rugby Players' Association dinner earlier this year

Fenby to receive the Blyth Spirit Award at the Rugby Players’ Association dinner earlier this year

‘Now, 18 months later, the good times are back. I had my last scan three weeks ago and it was all clear. You can achieve anything in life if you want it or work hard enough.”

On the pitch, Fenby excelled as a talented back with an eye for the try-line and credits the rugby community with playing a huge part in aiding his fight back.

Two of his longtime strength and conditioning coaches gave vital advice. Ben Pollard and Andre Quinn – who both suffered from the same illness – were supportive.

Former Wales internationals Matthew Rees and Morgan Stoddart and current center Johnny Williams also contacted them as they too had battled testicular cancer.

Jebb Sinclair, Alex Lewington, Conor Gilsenan and Dom Day were among the hundreds of others from the sport who came into contact. Fenby’s household was full of cards and gifts.

“One of the great things about rugby is meeting so many great people. When something like this happens to you, you realize how much support you have,” says Fenby with a smile.

“The house was full of Fortnum & Mason packs and healthy food. It was unbelievable.’

The 36-year-old is sober as he thinks back to his remarkable 18-month journey

The 36-year-old is sober as he thinks back to his remarkable 18-month journey

Fenby talks to sports post because he wants to raise awareness of testicular cancer and support those who are or have been in the same position he was in.

This is a man who has fought battles on the field and then faced a new opponent.

“Never, in a million years, did I think I’d have to go through this,” Fenby adds calmly.

“It was a huge shock. Being physically fit as a rugby player, you don’t think something like that can blind you out of nowhere.

“As crazy as it may sound, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.

“I knew I would come out the other side. Perhaps the only moment I thought “woah” was when I first got the news that I had stage two cancer and needed chemotherapy.

‘Those are scary words. For a few hours I was like, ‘Oh my God. Does my life end here?’ But once you talk to people who have been through the same thing, you can become more rational.

Fenby is back living in Chiswick and has started a successful new career in the tech industry

Fenby is back living in Chiswick and has started a successful new career in the tech industry

‘If someone else can do something, you can do it too. I am a big proponent of that. I wanted to keep pushing myself through chemotherapy. If I had been lying in bed thinking I was going to feel bad, I would probably feel bad too.

‘I’ve been on the phone a lot with friends. I did a mini online degree in computer science. I went for a run once or twice, albeit very slowly. I broke records for my slowest five kilometers!

‘My oncologist did say to me, ‘What are you doing? Calm down,” but I told him I wasn’t trying to break records and I was listening to my body. Your mind is the most powerful thing there is.

‘After my major surgery in June, I spent a week in the hospital and lost 10 kilos. Because they took out all my guts and juggled my stomach, my appetite was gone.

“Putting a crumb on my lips for two weeks was a chore. But then I started my new job in mid-August and by September I was back running and playing squash.

“I competed in the squash for Queen’s Club in mid-October and in April I ran the London Landmarks Half Marathon. That’s just me.’

Earlier this year, Fenby – who describes chemotherapy as a ‘mild hangover’ – was honored at the Rugby Players’ Association awards.

Fenby fends off a tackle during his career with London Irish in September 2013

Fenby fends off a tackle during his career with London Irish in September 2013

He was joint winner of the Blyth Spirit Award along with Leicester coach Kevin Sinfield – an award given to those who have shown real courage in the face of adversity.

It’s hard to think of two more deserving recipients.

“To stand next to Kevin with everything he has accomplished and done for Rob Burrow and motor neuron disease has been incredible. He’s superhuman and so loyal and humble,” Fenby added.

“When you go through bad times, you appreciate your relationships with friends and family and how important they are. My advice to anyone reading is to invest in those relationships because you never know when you’ll need that support.

“In the back of my mind now I’m always thinking ‘What if’, so it’s about cherishing moments. I am so lucky to have an amazing wife and two incredible little boys who have helped me through this.”

Father of Freddie, four, and Bertie, two, Fenby lives back in Chiswick with his wife Henni and has embarked on a successful new career in the tech industry.

‘Life is good again’, laughs Fenby. “It was never my intention to be an inspiration to others, but hopefully I can be there for other people to see that cancer is manageable and you can come out of it stronger than ever.”

“That’s how I’d like to be seen.”

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