Popular referee Leo Scullion is making a steady recovery from lung cancer and hopes to make a full return to the circuit next season.
Leo is one of snooker’s best respected referees and has taken charge of several major finals including the UK Championship and Welsh Open. He had been ear-marked to officiate the Betfed World Championship final at the Crucible in 2015, until he was diagnosed with the disease late in 2014.
Since then, it has been a long road to recovery for the 57-year-old from Glasgow. He underwent two cycles of chemotherapy and, during the second, suffered a minor stroke.
In March last year surgeons performed a thoracotomy with a view to examine the tumour on his lung, but decided it would be too dangerous to attempt to remove it.
Fortunately, since then the tumour has not grown, and Leo has shown slow and steady progress in his health. To the relief of his many friends on the tour, he returned to work behind the scenes, albeit not as a referee, two months ago.
“I’m going for a scan every three months, and so far that has gone well, the tumour has stayed the same size,” said Leo, who refereed a semi-final in Sheffield in 2012. “When I was first diagnosed, there was a lot of fear. I thought I was going to die. Everyone reacts differently and for me that thought lasted a long time, all the way through my treatment, probably until the end of last year.
“Then I came to realise that you can either curl up in the corner and wait for the worst to happen, or you can try to get on with your life. After that I started weaning myself off the strongest pain-killers, and doing a bit of exercise as I had put some weight on.
“That led me to speak to the Tournament Director Mike Ganley about returning to work. I came back at the China Open qualifiers in Barnsley in February. I wasn’t refereeing, just working a bit behind the scenes. I wasn’t sure how my concentration and stamina would be because I had been away for so long. I got a bit tired and my back was a bit sore but otherwise I was fine.
“I got a fantastic reception from all the players and referees. It felt as if I had never been away and I really enjoyed being back. If all goes well I’m hoping to get back into actual refereeing from the start of next season.”
Leo, who has been cared for by wife Joyce and daughter Stephanie, added: “The support I’ve had from the other referees throughout my illness has been absolutely fantastic. Just staying in touch with them kept me going throughout the treatment. When I was first diagnosed, I called some of the main guys because I wanted them to hear it from me rather than on the grapevine.
“I remember Eirian Williams saying that some people wouldn’t know how to react and what to say. He has been brilliant, always on the end of the phone. Olivier Marteel has been to visit me four times, which is amazing given the schedule he has. Jan Verhaas has been brilliant and helped me through some dark times, and and a few of the other refs have also been up to visit. Some of the journalists like Hector Nunns and George Riley have also called me which I really appreciated.
“The other good thing about the illness is that I’ve been able to watch plenty of snooker on TV!”
Show your support for Leo by tweeting him @LeoScullion