Perth-born footballer Dylan Tombides has spoken of the moment he discovered he had testicular cancer and how, shaken and ashen white, he asked: “Dad, could this kill me?”
The young West Ham United striker was diagnosed with the potentially fatal illness last year after playing for Australia in the Under 17 World Cup in Mexico.
Relaxing with his father Jimmy in Cancun following the Joeys’ exit, Tombides received the phone call that put the 4-0 loss to Uzbekistan firmly in perspective.
A random drug test after the game had uncovered a tumour on one of his testicles.
“I was 17, a young man and I had never come across cancer,’ he told the Daily Mail, in the UK. “All I was thinking about was getting in the West Ham team and taking my driving test.”
“I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time,” he said. “All I ever wanted to be was a top professional footballer with West Ham. I copped one in my groin against Brazil at the World Cup and I knew that I had a problem, but I had no idea it was cancer.
“It was only when I took the phone call in Cancun that I realised just how serious the condition was. I had the blood tests and CT scans when I got back to England and they told me I needed to have a testicle removed immediately. I just accepted it. I mean, it was hurting me so much anyway it seemed sensible.”
After surgery, Tombides then endured months of chemotherapy which tested his will to the limit.
“I’d wake up for 15 minutes and I would be exhausted. They would give me anti-sickness tablets and I would think I’d only been sick a couple of times in the night. Then Mum would look at me and put me right — it was more like seven or eight.
“There were times when I would just look at Mum and tell her, ‘I don’t want the chemo any more, I will live with the cancer’. That’s how I felt at times.
“It took five to 10 days to bounce back from each chemo blast and there is no trick to dealing with it.”
Mum Tracylee told the Daily Mail of the family’s helplessness: “As a parent we wanted to protect our kids but we had no control.
“I often thought cancer would happen in the lives of our family at some point, but not my kids.”
Tombides, who has a 12-inch scar running down his stomach, revealed how his spirits were lifted when West Ham players wore T-shirts in tribute to him in January, before the home game with Nottingham Forest.
But he also had to endure further surgery, after the discovery of a four-inch blood clot on his abdomen and cancer cells on his lymph nodes.
Now he is on track to rebuild his football career. While he must have nine-monthly blood tests before he is given the all-clear, he is determined to make the most of his opportunity - and with West Ham back in the top flight following promotion from the Championship, it couldn’t be on a bigger stage.
“It has been a long process, but all I ever wanted to do was play football again,” he said.