Last Saturday Gordon Browne walked onto a cricket field for the first time as a player since the Carrickfergus wicketkeeper’s life was turned upside down just over a year ago.
On the day he finished a six-month course of chemotherapy, Gordon scored 10 with the bat and took a catch to help Carrick’s second eleven beat North Down.
It was a day the 41-year-old perhaps hadn’t expected to enjoy again, after a trying 12 months that included a diagnosis of a brain tumour followed by surgery and courses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
It all started during an NCU Challenge Cup tie between Carrickfergus at Muckamore at Moylena last June.
The game was halted by umpires Michael Foster and Gary Blair when Gordon began feeling unwell. Within minutes an ambulance was called.
“I had batted and I had felt fine,” Gordon said. “It was in the second over of the Muckamore innings and there was a leg bye off Anthony Martin and I ran over to get the ball and I felt a bit dizzy.
“I thought nothing of it but I went back to my position and at the end of the over, I walked to the other end and I thought, I still don’t feel right. I crouched down and that’s when it all started. One thing I don’t remember is that I was talking rubbish and that is part of the seizure.”
The match eventually resumed but was later stopped again when conflicting reports emerged of Gordon’s condition from Antrim Area Hospital.
It wasn’t long before the seriousness of his condition emerged.
“I had a CT scan and then an MRI and I had to stay in for several nights. Eventually they sent me home without saying anything. The next week I was brought back to see the consultant at the Royal who said I had a brain tumour.
“He said, right I think it’s low grade, we’ll send you to Liverpool and then we’ll operate after the summer. I didn’t play any more cricket but I was involved in coaching and felt fine. I had my scan late August in Liverpool and they said the tumour had grown a bit, and the alarm bells went off for me because I had read enough about it.”
Gordon went through surgery last October but the news after the operation wasn’t good.
“A week after the operation they told me it was a high grade Glioblastoma which is not good, I won’t go into terminal terms, but that’s what it is. They said they would get me on to radiotherapy and chemotherapy and from mid-November to the 23rd of December I had radiotherapy. Now I have just completed six months of chemotherapy.
“I have not had another seizure like the one I had that day at Muckamore, and I’m fortunate because I have met other people through the treatment who have not been as fortunate. I’ve lost plenty of weight, I’m down to the weight I was when I was 18, but I’m feeling healthy and I’ve still been involved at the cricket club.”
Gordon’s original seizure came completely out of the blue. There were no symptoms prior to what happened at Muckamore.
“There was no warning, when I first went to see the consultant, I was asked had I been dizzy or had headaches. I never get a headache, even after I have a few beers I never get a headache, that was the first tell-tale sign of anything. It’s a condition that generally happens to people in their 60s, it happened to me when I was 40, I’m 41 now but there are other people who have gone through it who are 35. It’s a very rare thing, three people per hundred thousand of the population get it, but it’s not caused by any lifestyle thing, it’s a genetic thing, but thankfully it doesn’t pass on to my kids or anything.
“I live for the now, I feel fine, I can cycle, I can hit a cricket ball and take a catch.”
Gordon tried to maintain as much normality as possible during his treatment.
“On the last day of my radiotherapy, Eagy (Ryan Eagleson) had a night at his house on December 23 and I had just got a cold the week before that ended up lasting for six weeks. Your immune system is shot, I think I shocked a few of them when I turned up looking rather gaunt, but we had a few beers and had a good laugh. One of the keys to Carrick is that we are all good mates, I have known Eagy since I was 10 or 11 years old.”
Gordon’s decision to take to the cricket field again last Saturday came on impulse, and only after wife Rae gave her seal of approval.
“The chemo didn’t really affect me, my appetite went down, but I haven’t been sick. I just finished it on Saturday and made my comeback for Carrick that day,” Gordon said.
“I hadn’t intended to play but I got talking to people and my wife said if I felt fine I should just go and play. Our captain was a bit wary, he told me if I felt bad I should just walk off. We were playing at Carrick Grammar and the club sponsor got me my new named shirt and number in record time so at least I turned up in the right kit. It was good to be back.
“It was strange standing at first slip rather than keeper but it was great to take my first catch. I used to be a slipper 20-plus years ago before I took the gloves. Eagy was bowling then, he was an Ireland international in those days, the ball really used to fly through.”
Through the hard times Gordon has been comforted by the support from the cricket family.
It started with Muckamore’s wonderful reaction on the day of his seizure, and the doctors and nurses on the NHS have been beyond his expectations.
“I really would like to stress that Muckamore were amazing, the help they gave me, they sent me a card afterwards, they were in touch, they’ve been very, very good,” Gordon explained.
“And it was all the messages on Twitter from every club, my wife turned up at the hospital on the Sunday morning with a newspaper, telling me you’re in the paper and all over Twitter. It’s a good cricketing community, we all know each other and play against each other and have a beer afterwards.
“Carrick have been brilliant, because of my diagnosis they made me club president, I’m keen to be involved in funding applications and I have time on my hands.
“I played for the club even before we moved to Middle Road, on the Woodburn pitches. I played there when I made my debut, the club have been fantastic, I couldn’t say enough about them.”
The highlight of Gordon’s playing career was the summer of 2014. He had just returned from a decade away from the game and was propelled into the most memorable season in the club’s history.
“I had just moved back from Belgium, in March or April, I had chatted to a few people about playing and I turned up at the indoor nets thinking I was going to play a bit for the seconds,” he said. “But they said, we don’t have a wicketkeeper and I ended up playing 40-odd games because we won four trophies. I don’t think my wife was that impressed, my comeback accounted for weekends in Dublin. It was brilliant, the one thing I remember from my youth at Carrick, I hardly won anything, and then in my first year back we end up winning four trophies. I will always remember sitting after the final game to win Section One, we were in the changing room with four trophies around us, it was a special moment.”
For Gordon, Rea and their two children, aged three and six, it has been a difficult time, but the support has been unwavering.
“Compared to some of the people I have met through the treatment, I consider myself very lucky. It can be tough, my daughter who is six knows that daddy has cancer, some of the charities have contacted us through the hospital, the support they have given is unbelievable,” he said, “I know hospital waiting lists get a lot of hassle but I’ve found them unbelievable, especially the cancer centre up at the City hospital, they are very good.
“You have got to take every day as it comes, I feel fine, I’m starting to play cricket again and I’m still involved in the club. I will get through the cricket season and enjoy the moment.”