IF Joe Batley makes his Gallagher Premiership debut this season, he will not only have achieved something most rugby-mad youngsters dream of doing – he will have done it after overcoming great adversity.
The 22-year-old Bristol Bears forward was beginning to establish himself in Pat Lam’s side when, in March, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, having initially brushed off suggestions from his mother that he had developed a lump on his neck.
Now, following three months of chemotherapy, Batley is in remission. He has returned to training with the Bears – and, despite what he has been through, he is not allowing himself to be content with merely being healthy.
“When people talk about cancer, it’s a lot about just getting back to everyday life – but my everyday life is rugby,” Batley told ROAR. “So everything was [about] trying to get back into the team and be with the boys again.”
Batley’s progress has been remarkable. He is already back training alongside his team-mates – and retains his lofty on-field ambitions.
“My aim at the moment is just to get myself a regular name in the Bristol jersey,” he said. “Whatever comes after that will be amazing.
“However, I can’t think too far ahead, I need to just keep my head down, keep working, try and learn off the talent Pat has brought in, such as Steven Luatua. Chris Vui as a second row is an outstanding player, and if I could try and pick up a few things he does, it will benefit my game immensely.
“So, if I just keep my head down and just use the tools that are there at my disposal, then I will start thinking about what I could possibly achieve or not.”
Batley was a carefree 21-year-old when, after first his mother and then some team-mates pointed out a lump on his neck, he spoke to club doctor Jonathan Williams and ended up being sent for a biopsy.
Such was his understandable naivety about cancer, he admitted: “At the time, I didn’t know what a biopsy was. I thought it was like a questionnaire. And the next thing I know, these giant needles came out. That got me panicking.”
When the diagnosis was confirmed, Batley’s initial concern was how his family would be feeling.
“Cancer is a tough one to take – it’s the worst possible thing – so it did take me back at first. However, I wasn’t really thinking about what it was doing to my body – it was how I was going to tell my mum,” he said.
“I told my family not to go on Google, because I knew it would just scare them. I didn’t Google it myself, I just asked all the questions to the doctor.”
After going through chemotherapy – “the first one was the toughest; I was violently sick” – Batley received the positive news earlier this summer that he was in remission.
There is clear light at the end of the tunnel for the former Gloucester and England Under-20s lock – and he is incredibly grateful for the support he received during his darkest moments.
“People say the people closest to you will rally round, but [it was] people close and far,” he said. “I felt a lot of support and a lot of love. The club were amazing with everything. I just want to say thank you to everyone – I had so much support, and me and family appreciate it hugely.”