Cammy Graham was out for a languid stroll on the beach in North Berwick when his best mate, Harry, made a seemingly throwaway observation.
“He saw a wee dark spot on my calf,” says the 18-year-old. “I thought it was just a freckle but, fortunately, he’s more intelligent than me! He said ‘no, that’s a really dark mole, you should go to your GP and get it checked’. That was in August 2020.”
A trip to his doctor, a scan and a biopsy followed before the he received the diagnosis on March 2: Graham had stage two melanoma, a form of skin cancer which often presents with the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing one.
“I don’t like saying it to Harry, but he might have saved my life,” added Graham.
In a cruel twist, the day Graham received that shuddering news was the same afternoon when it was announced that the 2020/21 football season would be allowed to resume.
The talented midfielder had scored three goals in eight outings for Stenhousemuir prior to the Covid-enforced shutdown and his only concern should have been continuing that momentum.
Instead, his thoughts turned to illness and mortality; worries a young man should not have to countenance.
“I just thought: ‘Oh my God, where do I go from here?’,” said Graham candidly. “The five days after being told the news were the worst five days of my life
“I went home and locked myself in my room. I didn’t even want to speak to my family. All I kept thinking was: ‘How does an 18-year-old get diagnosed with cancer?’
“All the while I was just terrified that it was spreading.
“It’s weird when you are seeing your pals for the first time after the news. Even they don’t know how to act around you; don’t know what to say. What can you say?
“It’s the scariest news I can imagine getting but I can’t say how grateful I am to the NHS for all the support I got.”
Mercifully, it was not spreading. Graham received the all-clear last month following another biopsy and has already resumed full training with Stenny after signing a contract extension.
That would be a sufficiently inspirational outcome, even before one takes into account the positivity and determination with which Graham approached his recovery.
Absolutely over the moon to get the all clear from the biopsy. Toughest couple months! Thank you for everyone’s support to the fundraiser and messages 🔙🔜❤️ pic.twitter.com/2KCb938ikP
— Cammy Graham (@cammygrahamm) May 6, 2021
Prior to the successful operation to remove the cancerous cells from his leg, Graham climbed Ben Lomond to raise money for Melanoma UK, earning close to £8,000 for the cancer charity.
Displaying remarkable maturity for one so young, he intends to continue his relationship with the organisation with a view to raising awareness among those in his age group.
“After the diagnosis, I decided ‘no way, I wasn’t going to let it beat me,” said Graham. “Fundraising helped me to stay positive and so did speaking to surgeons, people who had this in the past and Melanoma UK.
“We were at £7,785 when I closed down the page to hand over to the charity. I was only expecting £1000 at the start but it just went crazy.”
He added: “I’m quite proud of myself that I never got too down about it. I just cracked on with a positive attitude. Of course, you have bad days but that’s when everyone surrounding me came into their own.”
Of that support network, mum Angela, dad Darren, his brother and sister, Kyle and Amy, and his gran — who ‘won’t cope with a mention in the paper’ — were his rocks.
The backing of the football family, so often a meaningless platitude, also became apparent for the ex-Hearts and Dunfermline youngster, with messages of support from the likes of Aaron Hickey, Josh Doig and Sean Clare.
“I was at Hearts for eight years so I grew up with boys like Aaron Hickey, Connor Smith, Cammy Logan, Josh Doig, Leroy [Makovara], Mackenzie Lawler,” he continued. “They were there for me when I needed them.
“I even got messages from Jake Mulraney and Sean Clare — guys that I didn’t even think would know about it or really know who I was.
“It was the same with the boys at Dunfermline like Matty Todd and Lewis McCann, and the amazing support I’ve had from Andy Munro, Mark McGuigan, Callum Tapping at Stenhousemuir.
“When you get messages from across the game it does lift your spirits and I can’t thank them enough.”
‘With one phone-call, it was all over’
In terms of ‘lifting the spirits’ nothing compared — or may ever compare — to the moment he received the news that the cancer had not spread.
“I honestly can’t put that feeling into words,” added Graham “It was the toughest, scariest two months of my life — and in that moment, with that one phone-call, it was all over.
“I was so happy and not just for myself. My family were so relieved and thankful and, after all the support they gave me, it was amazing to see their joy.”
✍️ Re-signing News
We’re pleased to announce that @cammygrahamm has signed a new contract with the club.
— Stenhousemuir FC (@StenhousemuirFC) May 21, 2021
And how sweet it is for Graham to once again be focusing on football and continuing what was, until his illness, a mighty promising spell with the Warriors.
“The club have been brilliant with me,” added Graham. “From the moment I told them about my diagnosis, they told me there was a contract waiting for me after my procedure — and I’m just buzzing to be here for next season.
“Now I want to make a real impact. I want to get a full season, playing from start to finish and help the club have a successful season. I feel good and, with a few friendlies under my belt, I’m confident I’ll be flying again.”