How netball helped one woman bounce back from cancer

Left to right: Freda Hutchison, chair of Netball Scotland; Aileen Campbell, Sport Minister, Pamela Sandy; Karin Figliolini, BBN Stirling; Carol Smillie, BBN Ambassador.

When Pamela Sandy accepted a trophy for Bounce Back to Netball Club of the Year, she found herself standing on the stage of the Scottish Parliament, alongside Scottish Sport Minister Aileen Campbell and celebrity Carol Smillie. It was a poignant and unexpected celebration.

In 2014, Pamela had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy, an operation and mental anxiety, but she believes that the benefits of sport aided her recovery.

Pamela discovered that the netball court was one place where cancer was, temporarily, not at the forefront of her mind. She explains: “On court I’m not a patient and I wasn’t patronised. I was either playing well or playing badly.

“As goal defence I had to stop those goals and that was all that mattered. On Tuesday, I’d have my chemo, then I’d play on Wednesday knowing that it would floor me, but I wanted to maintain my physical fitness. I had pain, I had nerve pain and I had scar tissue from my operation but I took the Peter Kay Hobnob approach – Dunk Me Again.”

Pamela’s original netball class in Stirling had folded in early 2015 due to low participation and a shortage of coaches, but a core group started a new club under the banner Bounce Back to Netball. The scheme is a legacy initiative designed by Netball Scotland with funding from the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Bounce Back to Netball encourages people gently back into sport. It targets those who perhaps played the game in school before life, jobs and children came along, and left them lacking confidence in the sporting arena.

Turning up to committee meetings in her headscarf with her loyal team-mates, Pamela was approached to be the new chairperson. “It was a great opportunity as I didn’t fully realise how fantastically busy I’d be.

“Setting up this new club, working alongside the wonderful club development officer Ruth Henderson from Active Stirling and learning how to put a constitution in place challenged me. It was a great distraction from the rubbish psychological cancer stuff I was dealing with day to day.”

Bounce Back to Netball launched in Stirling in April 2015. It began with a casual Wednesday evening club which was as much about enjoying sport as it was about winning matches. There was space for 25 members but, on its launch night, around 50 women turned up.

As the club grew, some team members became more skilled and keen so a Monday night session, with a focus on competitive play, was launched. A juniors team followed shortly after. In the space of a year, three teams had developed under the the auspices of Pamela and her fellow committee members.

So this autumn, when Pamela and her team-mate Karin Figliolini beat 80 other nominations to hold aloft the Bounce Back to Netball Club of the Year trophy, it was the culmination of an extremely personal sporting journey.

Yet, the following week Pamela ran a tournament raising money directly for Breast Cancer Care. She says: “It had come full circle for me. I felt netball helped my recovery in so many ways, and now I can use netball to raise money for others.

“It sounds hard but I’d encourage all women who find themselves in my position to try not to see cancer as the end of the world. Pick up your sneakers and go play some sport. It’s such a team effort, the psychological and physical benefits are worth it.”

To find a Bounce Back to Netball session near you,  visit

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