RedBlack’s coach Blugh’s illness brought new focus
After being healthy for most of his life, for a five-year stretch Leroy Blugh wasn’t feeling well; he had rapid weight fluctuations, dropping 60 pounds at one point.
But he was still shocked to find out, in a visit to a doctor two years ago, that he had a mild, non-aggressive form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Dealing with it, following a biopsy, dissection and chemo, has opened the Ottawa RedBlacks defensive line coach’s eyes.
“It was such a rare form of cancer that it wasn’t easily detectable,” said the 48-year-old Blugh.
“I saw a doctor who said, ‘I don’t like the look of this lump in your neck.’
Previously I had been told it was a cyst. It turns out it was a swollen lymph node. The reality of that is I had cancer.
“When I went to get checked out, doctors felt there was an issue with my liver and maybe I’d be a candidate for a transplant. For the longest time, I thought my liver could quit on me and stop functioning. It was a pretty dark time in my life. Being told that it was a treatable form of cancer was a huge relief because I really didn’t know what was wrong. Being told this is what it is and this is how we’re going to fix it, I found relief in that.
“When they told me (I had cancer), I said, ‘No way.’ I didn’t believe him. I thought for sure they would come in and say it was a mistake, ‘No, no, you’re OK.’
After the dissection and the removal of the lump, I was still in total disbelief. You’re in shock. Things started to mean a whole lot more to me. If you slow down, you start to figure out what’s important. You focus on those things and the people around you that you care about.”
Blugh was in his first full season with the Edmonton Eskimos.
He got plenty of support from those around him, from the Eskimos and from the Cross Cancer Institute.
He started his chemo halfway through the season and finished the following January.
“It was good I had the job coaching,” he said. “It got me out and kept me active.”
Blugh, a Canadian Football Hall of Fame nominee who starred in the CFL for 15 seasons, is revved up about life and about the coming CFL season, with the RedBlacks anxious to take a big step forward from a 2-16 record.
“I feel great,” he said.
“I’m happy to be here and wake up every day. I’m happy to have the opportunity to be part of this organization. I’m happy to have the opportunity to take a breath and get out and enjoy life. I feel like my whole perspective on life has changed. I’m a little more grounded in reality and I’m more cognizant of those small things that really do make your life special.
“I’m looking forward to firing things up and getting after it. We lost some games and with some of the ways we lost those games, it almost seems like unfinished business. We feel like we have a lot to prove. We feel we’re much better than our record showed, but we have to go out and work for it.”
Blugh also recently found out he’s going to be on the Napanee Wall of Fame.
“For it to be my hometown, where I grew up, that’s why it’s home, it’s special, that’s why I’ve decided to settle down there,” he said.
“It wasn’t all me, I had so much guidance and mentoring and support in helping me to achieve my goals and dreams and things.
“People in the town have known me since I was very, very young. As far as the town deciding to honour me, I didn’t expect anything like this. It’s just home. Everybody knows you, they know what you’ve done. Napanee has a small-town feeling, but we have a little bit of the city flair. We’re 20 minutes from Kingston, 15 to 20 minutes from Belleville, two hours from Toronto or Ottawa, a little more than two hours from Montreal, so we can get access to everything.”
WOMEN’S NIGHT: More than 100 women attended the RedBlacks’ inaugural Women’s Night at TD Place on Thursday.
“It truly was a great evening,” said RedBlacks coach Rick Campbell.
“Everybody had a blast, players and coaches included. It was so much fun that we’re definitely looking forward to next year’s edition.”