Bravedart is battling back
A BARRHEAD darts ace who fell victim to thyroid cancer is winning the most crucial battle of his life - while getting set to take part in the Scottish Open in Renfrew next month.
Jamie "Bravedart" Harvey, whose career came to a sickening halt when his cancer was diagnosed in 2009, was ranked fourth best player in the world before disaster struck.
"I'd ignored the symptoms, and by the time I got it seen to I was 'just in time' and no more," he said.
"As it was I thought I was a goner - for a while I didn't think I'd make it."
Now after almost three years of harrowing treatment, which included having his voicebox removed, his cancer is in remission.
He's rebuilding his strength, and is obviously keen to regain the sort of sparkling form which saw him propelled into a jet set life of global travel and international adulation.
The 56-year-old - now gravelly-voiced but as sharp as a tack - has clearly been through hell, but he's full of jokes and spirited banter as he checks the latest entries on his dedicated Facebook page, which is his prime means of keeping in touch with fans at home and abroad.
"I don't know if I can get back to where I was before I became ill but I'm certainly going to give it all I've got," he said.
Originally from Glasgow, Jamie had never even heard of Barrhead before he met his wife Marie, a home care worker.
The couple moved to the town in 1976, and Jamie's interest in darts began to take off after he won a bottle of whisky in a competition in the Flying Horse pub.
"I've a lot of friends in Barrhead," he said, "and the only sponsor I've ever had was the late David Dale who owned the Flying Horse."
What amounted to an all-consuming passion for darts turned into a high-flying career when he was sacked from his job with Scottish Power for insisting on keeping a contest date in Las Vegas - it was a "now or never" opportunity he couldn't pass up.
He made his World Championship debut in 1992, and in the following year was one of the players who founded the Professional Darts Corporation - and went on to play in every PDC World Championship from 1994 to 2006.
His major successes include winning the Antwerp Open and also the Scottish Masters.
But while his flamboyant style - arriving to play to the strains of "The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond" - his hectic lifestyle was taking its toll.
By his own estimation Jamie was smoking 100 cigarettes a day, and was often playing in venues that were thick with tobacco smoke.
"That's probably what gave me cancer," he said, "but when I worked for Scottish Power I was cutting plastic cable that gave off toxic fumes, and we never wore masks or gloves in those days - that came a few years after I left."
The long and traumatic treatment to stem the cancer has dominated his life since 2009, but radiotherapy beat the illness down and gave him hope for the future.
In his check-up trips to hospital he tells other patients what to expect, and doesn't try to conceal from them the fact the treatment will be unpleasant and sometimes frightening.
"But the important thing is you can beat it," he said. "When you're going through treatment everything is strange and unnerving, so I think it's helpful for people to hear from someone like me - who's been through it - just what they can expect."
Reminiscing about the matches which took him to stardom he says: "The thing that annoys me is that we were very poorly paid by comparison with the massive fees the top players get now.
"We were lucky to get perhaps £4,000 for a competition, which is nothing compared with the fees paid out today - really we weren't getting a good deal." But it's the sheer pleasure of playing - and the challenge of regaining some of his former brilliance - which has persuaded him to take up his darts again. "It's that split second when you know just a fraction of an inch is all that's in it which makes it such an incredible game," he says.
He relies on imaginative soft foods prepared by Marie, because of his throat condition, and has had to struggle to build up his strength and reflexes after the debilitating effects of his cancer treatment.
"But I've started playing again," he adds. "I don't know if I can be as good as I was, but getting back into darts gives me a challenge and an objective."
The 2011 Scottish Open takes place in the Normandy Cosmopolitan Hotel in Renfrew's Inchinnan Road on Saturday and Sunday February 19 and 20.
This article appeared in Barrhead News 03 Feb 12