Try speaking or swallowing with about a dozen marbles packed into the right side of your mouth.
Just ask Errol Barrow, who endured that challenge for nearly six months after being diagnosed with cancer in his jaw in 2010.
The veteran Canadian cricketer underwent a three-hour surgery in August that year to remove a tumor on the right side of his face. Eight months later, specialists performed an intricate eight-hour surgery to take out the bone under his right eye and replace it with part of his scapula, which connects the upper arm and collar bones.
“I don’t have any idea how big the tumour was and I really didn’t care,” said Barrow, who was born in Barbados. “All I know was that it was large enough that my mouth could not close, I could not swallow and my speech was affected because the jaw was partly locked.”
Barrow had to prove to medical staff he could swallow food before being released 12 days after his second surgery.
A Canadian citizen who splits time between Barbados and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Barrow returned to the cricket field last season for the first time in two years. He worked during the summer as an assistant groundsman at Maple Leaf facility in King City and played a few matches in the Barbados Masters tournament.
The day before the start of the 2013 Toronto & District Cricket Association (TDCA) league, Barrow felt a strong urge to resume his playing career in Canada.
“After I had finished cutting the grass and helping to put down the matting wicket, I just stood there and looked around the playing area,” he said. “As I admired the surroundings, I told Noel Lewis (he’s also a member of the Maple Leaf ground staff) that I wanted to play here again.”
Hours before the season started, Barrow called Civics Cricket Club executive member/player, Glen Robinson, to say he was ready to represent the club.
“Glen had asked me before if I would be interested in playing for Civics, so when I informed him that I was now ready, he was happy,” said the 43-year-old. “The funny thing is that I thought they were playing in a lower division. When I learnt they were in the Premier, I had some second thoughts because I didn’t know if I was ready to play at that level.”
Barrow missed the season opener against Parkdale but was ready for the second match the following day against Kholvad, which his team won. Playing as a batsman because his right bowling arm was still weak after the scapula removal, Barrow was unbeaten on 16 when victory was achieved and his partner at the other end was former Guyana and West Indies middle-order batsman, Keith Semple, who resides in the GTA.
“It was a great feeling to be back in the middle, and to walk off the field at the end with Keith who played the sport at the highest level was quite satisfying,” said Barrow. “It was just a great day for me.”
Barrow also had another reason to be ecstatic about the comeback.
It was his first appearance in a TDCA contest since 1994 when he turned out for Victoria Park in the Premier division which was the highest level of cricket in the GTA at the time before the Elite division was instituted.
Following that season, he returned to Barbados where he bought a gas station and did some farming. Sidelined from the sport for nearly 18 months after a car accident in 1995, Barrow quit playing four years later to concentrate on the family businesses and spend quality time with his two teenage daughters who play the violin and have a passion for karate.
The Lodge student was a member of the strong 1986 Barbados Cricket Association’s first division team that included Roland Holder, Sherwin Campbell and Vasbert Drakes, who went on to play for the West Indies and wicketkeeper/batsman, Livy Puckering, who represented Barbados.
He skipped the opportunity to play for Barbados in the 1987 Caribbean youth tournament in Jamaica, choosing instead to come to Canada that year to join his mother and further his education.
However, cricket was still in his blood and the right-arm medium pacer and lower-order batsman was soon back on the field representing Dovercourt for three seasons before transferring to York University where he made a significant contribution in the club’s first Premier division contest in May 1990.
Set a modest 121 for victory, an experienced Vikings team seemed to be cruising to an easy victory at 33-2 when Barrow struck with lightning effect, capturing six wickets in 29 balls to send the opposing team crashing to 78 all out.
“That was one of the best spells of sustained bowling I have ever witnessed,” former Canadian batsman, Paul Prashad, who was one of Barrow’s seven victims, said at the time.
Barrow made his Canadian debut the following season against the United States in a two-game limited-overs series in Calgary and was the most productive and effective bowler with 5-61 off 22 overs.
That outstanding performance along with a fine all-round showing in the Premier division earned him the 1991 Donald King national cricket scholarship and a six-month trip to Australia to receive coaching and play Grade cricket.
When that concluded, Barrow – with the help of some friends he met in Australia – enrolled in the University of Tasmania where he studied sports science and played for North Hobart before rejoining the TDCA league in 1994.
Last week, he was part of the Rogers TV crew that broadcast the CIBC National Cricket League (NCL) Twenty/20 championship at King City and the CIBC versus NCL All-Stars three-match Twenty/20 series at Toronto Cricket Club ground.
“This is the first time I have done something like this in Canada and I was pretty confident in front of the microphone,” he said. “I consider myself a student of the game, so I don’t have a problem communicating it. It’s just good to be back in a sport that I really love.”
He returns to Barbados for the winter when his contract at King City expires in early November.