Top professional snooker referee Leo Scullion has encouraged those worried about potential lung cancer symptoms to get checked without delay, as someone who survived the disease after seeing his GP about a persistent cough.
He is now back taking charge of major finals after receiving the welcome news that his lung cancer is in remission.
Leo, 63, originally from Glasgow but treated in Ayrshire, was diagnosed with the disease in July 2014, after returning home from a snooker event in China where colleagues mentioned his persistent cough.
“I was aware I was coughing, but it became noticeable to those around me. I put it down to the smog in China at that time, and the fact I was a smoker. I did have other symptoms which I now know were warning signs. I was waking up in the middle of the night with terrible sweats, and by the time I came back home, I was feeling pretty horrible. Looking back, I think I knew there was something more going on, your body just tells you.”
Leo booked an appointment at his GP practice straight away, with his GP immediately arranging a Chest x-ray at University Hospital Crosshouse, which showed a shadow in his left lung.
“As soon as the results came back, I felt as though I already knew. My wife Joyce was asking all the questions, and I just remember saying ‘is it terminal?’ At that point my GP reassured me that there was plenty they could do.”
Leo started a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to shrink the tumour ahead of planned surgery. His chemotherapy had to be halted midway through treatment due to him suffering a mild stroke, but radiotherapy continued, reducing the size of the tumour substantially.
Surgery went ahead in March 2015, but the removal of the remaining tumour was deemed too risky, as it was positioned high in his left lung, next to a major nerve.
Leo was monitored by CT scan in the years that followed, with the tumour showing no further growth. In December 2019, Leo received the news his cancer was in remission, five years after first being diagnosed. In that same year, he reached the pinnacle of his career, officiating his first World Championship final.
“After you’re diagnosed, you just put your trust in the medical profession and let them do their job. Treatment quickly takes over. It left me very weak and recovery was harder than I expected, but I made the conscious decision to try and reduce the painkillers, work on my fitness and start to get my life back.
“In 2016 I decided it was time to dip my toe back in the water work wise, working behind the scenes. It was great being back - tough, but I kept working at my fitness, and by 2017 I was back on the circuit. I’ve had such fantastic support from everyone in the snooker family, and my own family, and I’ll be eternally grateful for that.
“When I was at the sharp end and I needed people to help me, the NHS was there for me. If you’re worried about any unusual changes to your health, or worried about someone close to you, go and get checked. It really is that simple.
The sooner they can find out what is wrong, the better. I’m very grateful I went when I did.
“Yes it’s frightening at the beginning as there’s lots you don’t know, even saying it out loud is hard. But once everything is explained to you, you just put yourself in the hands of the experts and let them do their job. For me, I suppose my survival instinct kicked in, I’m a stubborn so and so, so I was determined to give the treatment my best shot.
“There were times when I wondered whether I’d be back refereeing. To be back working at a professional level, and to have my health, is tremendous. There is life after a diagnosis, and I intend to cause havoc for the rest of it.”