Former Wales forward Rhys Oakley is being supported by his teammates at Hartpury as he undergoes cancer treatment.
The 37-year-old flanker – who won two caps under former coach Steve Hansen back in 2003 – has been diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer.
His illness was only detected earlier this summer after Oakley went into hospital for a routine ankle operation.
Now, the ex-Newport Gwent Dragons player, has inspired a fundraising campaign at Hartpury that will see his teammates shave their heads before the season kicks off next weekend.
The Just Giving page has already raised over £3,500 and a statement from the English Championship club said: “Players and Staff at Hartpury RFC stand shoulder to shoulder with captain, teammate and friend, Rhys Oakley and his family as he bravely battles cancer.
“On August 29, members of the Hartpury RFC squad will shave their heads in support of Rhys and to raise money for It’s In The Bag – a South-West based charity that work tirelessly to support those affected by testicular cancer and their families. Please give generously.”
Money raised will be split between Oakley’s family and It’s In The Bag .
The charity is run by a group of testicular cancer survivors and aims to support, raise awareness and focus on survival.
Luke Stratford, Hartpury hooker, posted on Twitter: “Will be sad to see the locks go after 16 months of growth but it’s undoubtedly worth it.
“If you can donate any amount, no matter how small, to support Rhys and his family then please do.
“Thank you from all the lads at Hartpury.”
Oakley – who left the Dragons in 2006 and has since played for Yorkshire Carnegie, Bourgoin, Northampton and Moseley before joining Hartpury – discovered a lump in his chest whilst undergoing the ankle surgery.
Tests showed it was as a result of the spread of metastatic testicular cancer.
“When that operation was due I had a bit of a chest pain and thought really nothing of it,” Oakley told The Gloucestershire Echo.
“I did go to the doctor but they couldn’t really work out what was wrong. I went in for the operation and they refused to put me under anaesthetic, which is fair enough considering I had chest pains and didn’t know what it was.
“They sent me to see a cardiologist to find out what was wrong and make sure there was nothing wrong with my heart to make sure that if I did go under anaesthetic, I was going to wake up.
“I went for a CT scan with the cardiologist and they found a large mass lump in my chest cavity behind my breast plate, slightly pushing against my heart which is what was making it hard to breathe.
“They initally thought it could be a lymphoma or some kind of cancerous mass but weren’t sure so they needed to do a biopsy and blood tests.
“The more people know about sportsmen, high-profile people, the more it’s out there. The more people get to read about these things and realise they are everyday occurrences that can happen to anybody at any time, then the more likely people are to go and get checks, look after themselves – not put your head down and pretend it’s not happening.
“I’ll get in touch with people who have been through it, find out their stories, find out the rigours of what’s going to be happening to me, take inspiration from their stories, take advice from them, what I need to be doing fitness wise, health wise, looking after myself, putting myself in the best position.”
To donate to the cause, go to: http://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/hartpuryheadshave?utm_term=GZaXXwxEY