FORMER Burnley defender Mark Winstanley has revealed he is winning a battle with leukaemia after a life-saving bone marrow transplant operation.

Diagnosed in the summer of 2018, the St Helens-born ex-defender is currently in strict isolation as he continues his recovery.

But the former Turf Moor man, who made more than 150 appearances for the club between 1994 and 1999, says he is now heading in the right direction after being told he could have had just a few weeks to live by specialists.

Winstanley, who works for Dunscar Timber in Bolton, first noticed something was wrong after suffering with a bad back and headaches which made it difficult to sleep.

After initially being given rehab advice on the back problem he began getting palpitations and feeling tired, which prompted his doctor to pull him in for blood tests.

“I got brought in on the Monday and had a test at 9.15am and by about 5.45pm I was told to go in overnight because they thought I either had diabetes or that I was anaemic,” he said.

“I saw my kids but then by 10.30pm they had changed my ward and I was in haematology. The doctor came over and said: ‘you’re diabetic, you have anaemia, or it could be leukaemia’, and he wandered off. I was like ‘great I’ll stay here then!’

“The next day I got moved over to Salford and they told me I was quite ill and that I needed to start the chemotherapy straight away. I had acute myeloid leukaemia and it was pretty serious.”

Winstanley was given the choice of a trial drug by doctors and after starting his treatment – which involved regular stays in hospital - found the severity of his illness was put into context after a chat with a specialist.

“I was looking at it like I would football and if you get a calf injury or something, then the physio can tell you that it’ll be three weeks before you are back training again. I wanted to know,” he said.

“The weirdest thing is that all the way through it I didn’t feel terribly ill. You went there, got plugged in for the chemo, came back. You felt tired but it wasn’t something I felt threatened by.

“But then a specialist told me that if we hadn’t started treatment when I did, I probably had three weeks left.”

Months after his initial diagnosis Winstanley felt he was making good progress and was given the all-clear at the start of last year – but again, another hurdle would be put in his way.

“I rang the bell in January last year but I had to do monthly tests, so on World Cancer Day – which is February 4 – I went back in and they said it was coming back. I needed a stem cell transplant.”

The procedure signalled another three-week stay in hospital, this time at Manchester Royal, and a long period of recovery at home.

Encouragingly, the numbers now make much better reading and though the COVID-19 pandemic presents a fresh challenge for the 52-year-old, he is feeling more confident about the future.

“Since the bone marrow operation by results have been clear, touch wood, and the count is going in the right direction,” he said.

“I’m classified as high risk at the moment so I can’t go outside the house – but it’s not the end of the world.

“My family have been amazing through the whole thing. I owe them a lot.

“It makes you look at things in a different way and realise that some things are just not worth getting upset about!”