As Andrew Fenby gets to the crunch point of his inspirational story of recovery from not only stage two cancer, but also the loss of his business, he briefly pauses to show a long scar down the centre of his stomach.
It tells you everything you need to know about what has been a tough 18 months for the 36-year-old.
‘It’s my crocodile bite, as my son Freddie refers to it,’ Fenby tells Sportsmail.
Andrew Fenby with his children Freddie and Bertie during his recovery from cancer
Fenby’s scar from the seven-hour op he had to remove cancer from his lymph nodes
‘I first noticed a problem when I was putting Freddie into the car and he kicked me flush in my right testicle. I immediately felt something wasn’t right and booked in to see the GP who suggested it was likely just a trauma and sent me away. But I should have trusted my instinct.
‘I knew something wasn’t right. Unfortunately, I lost nine weeks and in October 2020, I got a private scan and the consultant just gulped.
‘He said it was very likely it was testicular cancer and we had to get moving.
‘I had the right testicle removed almost immediately, but then I had a CT scan and that confirmed the cancer was stage two.
‘It had gone from my testicle up to my abdomen and was in my lymph nodes.
‘I’d had two months of chemotherapy in the December and January and had secured a new job, but then we had to go hunting for the lymph nodes.
‘I was cut open and they took all my insides out.
‘It was a big 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, Fenby, from North Wales, retired in 2016. He had impressive stints at London Irish and Welsh side Scarlets as well as Newcastle.
He also briefly came out of retirement to play for Saracens on a short-term deal after their then wing Chris Ashton was handed a long ban for biting. He then moved on to a successful post-rugby career.
Fenby was thriving in the hustle and bustle of London’s corporate world and had set-up his own rugby agency when, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, he was hit by a seismic double blow.
Fenby, pictured with his wife Henni, received lots of support from the rugby world
‘I had a lot hit me at once. You don’t expect that,’ Fenby says. ‘Covid decimated the rugby industry and I had to make the tough decision to close the agency.
‘In the week I closed it, I then got my cancer diagnosis. As bad weeks go, that was up there.’
Fenby is matter-of-fact when reflecting on his remarkable journey, but the reality is not many would have had the strength he showed in the face of such adversity to not only survive, but thrive.
‘I’ve now been able to reflect on what’s happened in the last 18 months,’ he says. ‘I saw cancer as a fitness test I was going to crush. I wasn’t going to let it beat me.
‘I had a sportsman’s mentality where I was so focused and single-minded. One year ago, my family and I were going through a very difficult time. We had just had a baby, I’d closed my company, and then I got the cancer diagnosis. That’s tough in any situation, but in the depths of the pandemic we had to lockdown and stay extremely isolated while I went through my treatment.
‘It was really tough. One of the only silver linings of Covid was 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 during the whole year we ended up spending there and I’m so grateful to them for everything they did for us.
‘We all got through it, but only now can I really see they were pretty dark times.
Fenby collects the Blyth Spirit Award at the Rugby Players’ Association dinner earlier this year
‘Now, 18 months on, 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 field, Fenby excelled as a talented back with an eye for the try-line and credits the rugby community with playing a huge role in helping his fightback.
Two of his old strength and conditioning coaches provided vital advice. Ben Pollard and Andre Quinn – both of whom suffered with the same illness – were rocks of support.
Former Wales internationals Matthew Rees and Morgan Stoddart and current centre Johnny Williams also got in touch as they too had fought testicular cancer.
Jebb Sinclair, Alex Lewington, Conor Gilsenan and Dom Day were among the hundreds of others from the sport who got in touch. The Fenby household was packed with cards and gifts.
‘One of the great things about rugby is you meet so many great people. When something like this happens to you, you realise how much support you have,’ Fenby says with a smile.
‘The house was filled with Fortnum & Mason hampers and healthy food. It was incredible.’
The 36-year-old is matter-of-fact when reflecting on his remarkable 18-month journey
Fenby is talking to Sportsmail because he wants to raise awareness of testicular cancer and support those who have been or are in the same position in which he found himself.
This is a man who fought battles on the field and then confronted a new opponent head on.
‘Never, ever in a million years did I think I’d have to go through this,’ Fenby adds calmly.
‘It was a massive shock. Because you are physically fit as a rugby player, you don’t think something like this can blindside you from nowhere.
‘As daft as it sounds, I didn’t have any moments of doubt at any point.
‘I knew I was going to come out the other end. Maybe the only point at which I thought ‘Woah’ was when I first got the news I had stage two cancer and I needed chemotherapy.
‘Those are scary words. For a few hours then I was like ‘Oh my God. Is my life ending here?’ But once you speak to people who have been through the same thing, you can start to be more rational.
Fenby is back living in Chiswick and has started a successful new career in the tech industry
‘If someone else can do something, so can you. I’m a big believer in that. I wanted to keep pushing myself through the chemotherapy. If I had laid in bed thinking I was going to feel c***, then I probably was going to feel c***.
‘I made lots of calls to friends. I did a mini online degree in computer science. I went running once or twice, albeit very slowly. I was breaking records for my slowest five kilometres!
‘My oncologist did say to me ‘What are you doing? Calm down’ but I told him I wasn’t trying to break records and was listening to my body. Your mind is the most powerful thing.
‘I stayed in hospital for a week after my big operation in June and lost 10 kilos. Because they took all my insides out and juggled my stomach around, my appetite turned off.
‘To put a crumb to my lips for two weeks was a chore. But after that, I started my new job in mid-August and in September, I was back running and playing competitive squash.
‘By mid-October, I was competing for Queen’s Club in squash and in April, I ran the London Landmarks half marathon. That’s just me.’
Earlier this year, Fenby – who describes chemotherapy as having a ‘mild hangover’ – was honoured at the Rugby Players’ Association awards.
Fenby fending off a tackle during his playing career at London Irish in September 2013
He was a joint winner alongside Leicester coach Kevin Sinfield of the Blyth Spirit Award – one given to those who have shown true show courage in the face of adversity.
It is hard to think of two more deserving recipients.
‘To be alongside Kevin with everything he’s achieved and done for Rob Burrow and motor neurone disease was incredible. He’s superhuman and so loyal and humble,’ Fenby adds.
‘When you go through bad moments, it makes you appreciate your relationships with friends and family and how important those are. My advice to anyone reading would be 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’m so lucky I have an amazing wife and two incredible little boys who got me through this.’
A father to Freddie, four, and Bertie, two, Fenby is back living in Chiswick with his wife Henni and has started a successful new career in the tech industry.
‘Life is good once again,’ Fenby smiles. ‘I never set out to be an inspiration to others, but hopefully I can be there for other people to see that cancer can be manageable and you can come out the other end stronger than ever.
‘That’s how I’d like to be thought of.’