Ripley quick to hail beating cancer as his greatest victory

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The Independent Online

"The only thing that counts is to love; the rest is just noise..."

Ripley's World: The Rugby Icon's Ultimate Victory Over Cancer (£17.99, Mainstream Publishing)

Andy Ripley was one of the great talents of 1970s rugby but, since his 2005 diagnosis of prostate cancer, he is a changed man. Over the course of his life, this sporting chameleon has participated in and become champion in the BBC World Superstars programme, had a successful turn at rowing and enjoyed immensely successful rugby years with Rosslyn Park, England and the 1974 British Lions. But these days, Ripley looks to the future, not the past.

He says of his cancer diagnosis: "It's someone sitting in a room, telling you something you don't want to hear. It's shocking when it happens to you because it's unique to you, even though the cancer itself is hardly unique; 100 men every day will be told they've got prostate cancer."

Admitting to a previous ignorance of the disease, Ripley did what anyone in such a situation would: research his condition. "The way I looked at it was, if it is going to kill me, then I want to know more about it. Before my diagnosis, I didn't really know what the prostate was or did. I kept calling it 'prostrate'."

Ripley decided to write a diary, which helped him deal with his feelings. "I think lots of people that have cancer write diaries; it's to help them understand their situation better. Just by writing things down, I found my situation less frightening; it was a way of dealing with the situation."

Eventually, Ripley donated his diary to The Prostate Cancer Charity and they decided to make a book out of it. "Even though my reasons for writing the diary were selfish, it may be of use to others. I don't know how well books like mine sell; books about erectile dysfunction, mortality...they're probably not big Christmas stocking fillers. But if by releasing my diary I can get one more man to go and get checked out... men don't go to the doctor unless they've got a broken leg or a list of things wrong with them. What women talk about, men don't."

Talking of women, off the pitch Ripley's life has also been a major success. He has been married for 30 years and has grown-up children – and this creates a strong family support base that he can draw upon.

"Cancer's a big word, an emotive word. It means different things to different people. Some people who knew of the diagnosis thought I was going to die immediately, I received so many cards and letters. If there's a silver lining, it's the feeling of being loved. So, it isn't all bad."

Ripley has also found the rugby community to be a terrific support, even after the best part of 30 years' retirement. "Now that I'm coming up to my 60th birthday, I find myself indebted, particularly to rugby... mainly the friendships I've made through the game.

"When your immortality's brought into some purpose, you wander down avenues, thinking about what's important. Ultimately, the only thing that counts is to love. Whether you're 20 or 60, you want someone to love you; the rest is just noise."

He still loves rugby, whether he's watching his son play – "it's great for a father to watch his son play; I'm proud" – or viewing the World Cup. "I visited Marseille and saw both quarter-finals. The best game was France v New Zealand which we saw on a giant screen. I remember being surrounded by about 10,000 Frenchmen!

"Marseille's not really a tourist place, so there were no hotel rooms. I ended up sleeping three nights in the car, which, at 59, isn't the smartest thing to do!"

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