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'I want you to know something . . . I kind of want you with me on this one'

It says much about Ross Hutchins that when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a form of cancer, less than two weeks ago, one of his biggest concerns was how his friends would take the news.

Ross Hutchins, left with Andy Murray, hopes to be playing again by the end of the year. Picture: Getty
Ross Hutchins, left with Andy Murray, hopes to be playing again by the end of the year. Picture: Getty

After informing his family, the 27-year-old, one half of Britain's top-ranked doubles partnership with Scotland's Colin Fleming, Hutchins picked up the phone and called Andy Murray, quickly followed by Fleming himself.

The good news is that Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer that is more common in men and especially between the ages of 15 and 35, is a largely curable disease and the prognosis is good. At the same time as he was taking in his news, though, he was also thinking of others, especially Murray.

"I said to him I don't know whether to tell you; I don't want to ruin your preparation because I know you've been working hard," said Hutchins yesterday. This morning, he begins six months of chemotherapy at London's Royal Marsden Hospital but he hopes to be back on court before the end of the year. "I said: 'But as my closest friend, I want you to know something before it gets out because I kind of want you with me on this one'. He's been brilliant. He's sent a gift and is asking every day how I'm feeling. He wants to know every single detail, however bad or good it is.

Murray dedicated his victory in Brisbane last weekend to "a sick friend" and, while he didn't name him, he signed: "For you, Perched".

"It was a personal name he calls me and no one else in the world calls me it," Hutchins said. "It's been a running joke for years.

"It makes me feel good he won Brisbane, because I think it was quite upsetting for him to hear. I'm just pleased that it didn't [affect him], not that it would because he's such a professional and is able to switch off and get back into tennis mode. He's been absolutely unbelievable and so supportive with me the whole way."

The same can also be said for Fleming, whose partnership with Hutchins has burgeoned over the past two years to the point where they finished 2012 as first alternates for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

Fleming will have to find a new partner for the time being but Hutchins said the Scot had assured him he would be there for him when he gets back. "He said, 'don't worry; I'll be here when you're back and we'll win grand slams together.' "

The support for Hutchins, though, has gone far beyond the UK's borders, with players from all over the world calling him up to wish him luck or posting messages via Twitter and Facebook. Hutchins said that on the day he announced his news he received "more than 1000 messages", which left him overwhelmed and genuinely touched.

"I read every single one, from people who are currently going through Hodgkin's Lymphoma, people who are going through cancer, people who've had it and come through strong, people who are in remission and people offering advice."

"I've had a lot of messages on Twitter, not just from players from Britain, which is nice, but also from foreigners who you have spent time with in locker rooms, who you've been to dinner with. I wouldn't expect it and I didn't expect it, but as well as the people who texted me directly, it's been very nice, very supportive."

Remarkably, Hutchins only discovered he was suffering from the illness on December 27, two weeks after he saw a kidney specialist because of back pain he had been suffering with, on and off, since last April. A chest scan showed pneumonia on one of his lungs but doctors discovered enlarged lymph node glands in his medial stynum, near to his heart, that eventually proved to be Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"I always just thought it was a lower back pain and, because I struggled with my hips and lower back in my career, I just thought it was a tennis players' injury," he said. After a couple of scans, he had a biopsy on December 22 and finally learned the news five days later.

"It was a tough 20 minutes," he said, plainly. "After that I kind of settled down and realised, 'okay, we've got to get on with this', and my first question to her [the surgeon] was, "okay, what's the treatment? Let's move this forward, what's next, how do we get rid of it?' "

Hutchins is well liked on Tour and a smile is never far away from his lips. His positive outlook on life will, he hopes, speed up and strengthen his recovery. "My mental state is that you need to be positive and have a very bubbly outlook on life and continue to smile and enjoy things when going through this chemotherapy period and this treatment," he said.

If all goes well, Hutchins could be going into remission just as Murray tries to go one step further than last year at Wimbledon, by breaking the country's 77-year drought on the men's side.

"It would be absolutely incredible if he could win Wimbledon for his sake, and if it coincided with myself going into remission that would be even sweeter," he said. "I would love to be there to support him in every way in the final of Wimbledon. That would mean the world to me."

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