Rugby Star Byron Hayward: My battle with eye cancer
9:18am Friday 23rd August 2013 in News
FORMER Wales and Ebbw Vale rugby star Byron Hayward revealed his life was saved by a routine eye check which diagnosed a rare form of cancer.
Hayward, 44, visited his local opticians in July last year, his first check-up in over a decade, because he felt he needed glasses.
The current Wales U20 head coach said: “I went for my annual test to Specsavers in Ebbw Vale, but to be honest it was the first time I had been for 12 years. But I needed reading glasses.”
As part of the routine eye test, a picture of the back of the eye was taken using digital retinal photography. The optometrist spotted a slight discolouration and a small object at the back of Hayward’s eye and immediately referred him to a specialist.
He visited Nevill Hall Hospital, Abergavenny in early December and was asked questions about his bowels.
“I thought it was strange, them asking me all these questions about my health because I’d only been for an eye test,” he added.
“I asked the doctor if something was wrong and he wouldn’t tell me so I thought ‘something’s not right here’.”
Hayward was referred to a specialist eye unit at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital in January, where he was eventually diagnosed with a malignant form of Ocular Melanoma, a type of eye cancer.
Ocular Melanoma is detected in 500 people every year, and early detection of the disease is crucial for it to be treated successfully.
Hayward decided to receive immediate radiotherapy treatment and underwent two operations in Liverpool to try and tackle the tumour. He then faced an agonising wait to see if the cancer had stopped spreading.
“It turns your life upside down,” Hayward said. “I didn’t mention anything to the family over Christmas because I didn’t want to worry them and I didn’t really know how serious it was at the time.
“The physical stuff is the easiest to cope with. That four or five week period when I was waiting to see if it was spreading was the worst part.
“I had my six-month check in July, and they want me to go back in November because they can’t see if it has regressed or not.
“I am still in recovery for two years but everything is moving in a positive direction.”
Twice capped by his country at full international level in the late 1990s, Hayward also enjoyed a brief career as an amateur boxer. But doctors said his illness was not put down to his sporting career.
“It’s not a symptom of lifestyle, it can happen to anyone. I was told by the doctor it had nothing to do with me playing rugby. If anything, it would have been easier to accept if it was.
“I’ve kept myself fit all my life, but now when I go for a run I tend to tire a bit quicker.”
Hayward has a wife and three children, but he only told his children and his mother three weeks ago, before deciding to go public with his battle with cancer.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I’ve had great care and a lot of professionals have done a great job and have probably saved my life. I felt that I needed to give something back.”
Hayward, who also played for Newbridge, Newport and Pontypool during his career, will undergo a three-part challenge starting next month to raise awareness for OcuMel UK, a charity which specialises in the condition.
On September 21, he will take part in a parachute jump in Lancashire in which he describes as “probably the most terrifying thing I’ve done”. A week later, Hayward will attempt to run up Snowdon before completing the Cardiff Half Marathon on October 6.
“This disease is deadly because people are not aware of how to detect it, the only way it can be spotted in the early stages is through eye tests,” he added.
“It shouldn’t be called an eye test, it should be called an eye health check.
“I want to get it across that this can be prevented. People have lost their lives because of late detection. Thirty minutes once a year could save your life.”
To find out more about Byron’s challenge and to donate, go to www.justgiving.com/byron-hayward.
Andrew Sutton, director of Specsavers in Ebbw Vale, where the early signs of Byron Hayward’s cancer were first detected, said: “The back of the eye is the only place where microcirculation of the blood can be observed directly and it helps us to detect and manage conditions such as diabetic changes the onset of Glaucoma and macular degeneration.
“Fortunately, we were able to catch the tumour early enough for treatment to take place, but in most cases there are no immediate symptoms, and tumours will continue to grow unnoticed.
“If Byron hadn’t come to us for an eye test, the chances are he would not have discovered the tumour until it was further advanced and much harder to treat.
“The eyes are the window to the body and regular eye tests can help to determine your general well-being, as well as provide early diagnosis of serious conditions. In fact, around 50 per cent of blindness in the UK could be eliminated if people had regular eye tests.
“Most people tend to think of an eye test as a vision test, which of course is very important. However, there is much more to an eye examination that the health of the eyes which most people are unaware of. We recommend that everyone should have their eyes tested every two years or every 12 months if you are over 40.
“In Wales we are ahead of the rest of the UK with the introduction of the New Welsh Eyecare Initiative and Specsavers are major supporters. Many of our opticians receive further training and accreditation to do further specialist test procedures that can detect early conditions. This early detection allows our optical stores to refer patients to eye care specialist directly and quickly under the NHS system.
“We are continuing to support Byron throughout his treatment and think that it is admirable that he wants to use his experience to raise awareness of the condition and the importance of regular eye tests.”
Roger Lewis, WRU Group Chief Executive, added: “Byron has the full support of the Welsh Rugby Union, both for a full and rapid recovery from his illness and for the challenge he’s about to embark on.
“It is admirable that he is using a difficult time to raise awareness of the risk of eye cancer and the importance of regular eye tests.”
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