‘My cancer came back’


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Rochdale’s Joe Thompson on his battle with cancer

Rochdale midfielder Joe Thompson has already fought off cancer once but is now battling the disease a second time.

Thompson overcame nodular sclerosing Hodgkin lymphoma after a six-month course of chemotherapy while at Tranmere in 2014, but the illness returned and he was forced to stop playing football in March.

This week, Thompson, 28, was admitted to Christie’s Hospital in Manchester for further chemotherapy and stem cell replacement.

Days earlier, Joe and his wife Chantelle spoke to BBC Sport’s Simon Stone.

Just before Christmas, I found out the cancer had come back.

It was a Thursday or Friday morning and I was due to go training. I thought I was going to get some good news from the doctors so I had my wash bag ready and my boots sorted. But then I got angry, really angry.

Initially I got a phone call from my manager, Keith Hill, asking me where I was because I was running behind. I just stopped in the car park at the hospital and told him. I started crying and he said “don’t worry. we will sort it out”.

I said I would come in later on but I didn’t want all the lads to be there because I knew I was going to cry. I knew they had preparations and I didn’t want to knock us all.

But a few of them were still there – I shed a few tears and had a few deep conversations. It is a great changing room, and they support you. When one of your soldiers is down, you are looking to the rest of the cavalry to pick him up.

‘I was really struggling, then I was violently sick’

Joe Thompson<!–

Thompson (right) last played for Rochdale in a 2-2 draw at MK Dons on 11 March

Thompson, who made over 100 appearances for hometown club Rochdale at the start of his career, also had spells at Bury and Southport before re-signing for The Dale in September 2016 on a six-month contract.

He made 28 appearances in the 2016-17 season, scoring three goals, but last played for the club in a League One game against MK Dons on 11 March.

I played on with it for as long as I could, but it got too hard and too strenuous.

It all came to a head at MK Dons away. I had not been feeling great but I was still able to do everything that was asked of me.

I was on the bench initially. I had scored against Peterborough the week before so I was a bit in a huff about being a sub. But Stephen Davis had to come off after 20 minutes and I went on up front.

The game was 100 miles an hour and I was in slow motion. I was really struggling.

I tried to refuel at half-time but when the floodlights came on, my eyes started going. Everything was off and my passing wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t going where I wanted it to go. The second 45 minutes was a nightmare.

I had some results due the following Monday. I was thinking “is it just anxiety?” But after the game I was violently sick. I had to see their club doctor as I was being sick with blood and I wasn’t really with it. My physio and the medical staff were all around me and the lads could hear me being sick. Everyone was down.

‘He will come out the other end’

Thompson and his wife Chantelle have a four-year-old daughter called Thailula. Her reaction was uppermost in their minds, as Chantelle explains…

It was heartbreaking when we got that news for the second time.

We had an inkling as the doctors had said there had been a difference in the scan from six months prior. Then we had a period of two weeks where we were waiting for the results.

You just have to remain positive. We are trying to keep things as normal as possible and play it down slightly. We just don’t want our daughter to worry and think it is going to end up in a bad result, because it is not. So far everything has been going the way it should.

I have seen Joe at his highest and his lowest. But he is an amazing person, and an amazing dad. He is very strong and I have no doubt he is taking this in his stride. He is getting on with it and he will come out the other end.

‘I’m going to be put in isolation this time’

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It is my immune system this time. Everyone knows cancer is a terrible thing but it just becomes a little bit more complicated when it is everywhere.

Next week I start my stem cell transplant, which involves more chemotherapy and I will be put in isolation due to the risk of infection.

It is going to get hard – and it has been hard – but I am just doing the best I can. They tell me it is going to be more intense, more potent than what I had before with the standard chemotherapy.

In the next 10 days or so, they basically wipe out all your cells and all your bone marrow – you are naked to an extent and vulnerable. Then they reintroduce good cells that are in the freezer and slowly they build you up and get you back out there as soon as possible.

‘I don’t get angry or feel sorry for myself’

I can’t really explain my emotions as they change every day, depending on how you feel – if the sun is out, what has gone on, the stresses of everyday life.

I have been missing football, the highs and lows that you want to be part of. It is everything I have done for the last 12 years, but I have had to put that to one side and focus on getting healthy.

One thing I don’t do is get angry or feel sorry for myself – I kind of see it as a little chink in the armour and I am in the right hands to get it sorted.

It makes you look at what you are doing and what you have been doing. I have always eaten well but I have really honed in on diet and I think that has played quite a big part in a lot of the results I have got during this treatment. My doctors have been amazed by my blood counts and recovery and also appearance.

I don’t want any pity or sympathy. I just try and keep a clear head.

‘I don’t think Daddy is going anywhere’

Joe Thompson<!–

Joe and his wife Chantelle have a daughter called Thailula

When they were given the news that the cancer had returned, the family of three packed their bags and took a long-awaited trip to Thailand.

And it is his daughter’s reaction to this new round of treatment which has been occupying Thompson’s thoughts.

That is the first thing I was worried about. Obviously Chantelle went through it with me the first time, but Lula was a lot younger then. This time, she is going to know.

We didn’t say anything initially. I didn’t want it to taint or affect her holiday and leave it on a sour note, so we told her when we got back.

I do worry for her. I worry when she comes to hospital, I make sure I have been on the phone to Chantelle and I have had a sleep so I have some kind of energy for her.

The beauty of kids is they see doctors and nurses as miracle workers. She thinks of it as ‘the doctors are getting daddy better’, although it is probably taking longer than she wants but it is just something daddy has to go through.

You have to be as honest as possible as she is a very bright girl. But I have never put it in her head that daddy is going anywhere. I don’t think daddy is going anywhere, but you do think of the worst. I try not to focus on it but it is always a possibility.

One thing I have always said with my family is I would much rather it be me going through it than anybody else close to me.

‘A footballer is not bulletproof’

Bury<!–

Bury players wore T-shirts in support during a League One match between Bury and Rochdale in April

I have come at it with different emotions this time, I was a lot younger before and I dealt with it differently. I was on a different ward with a lot of younger kids last time so I felt I had to be the shining light, the warrior and the strongest one.

Quite a few of them knew who I was, but this time I have been given the big boys’ treatment – the stuff that tests the strongest men. It has been harder.

A footballer is not bulletproof. I know fans think they are amazing and a lot of people put them up there but I’m not a superstar.

‘You need a carrot at the end of it all’

Joe Thompson<!–

Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy: “He has the full support of everyone at the club and we will do everything we can to help him beat this horrible disease for a second time.”

Returning to football is not something I have chalked off at all. I am still physically in shape, I eat really well and I feel I have got all the tools.

I have a great foundation at Rochdale and a good relationship with the manager. He has been constantly messaging me to see how I am – his staff and his team are very meticulous in their ways and their attention to detail and I know when I get back out there, I am going to have a framework around me that will support me.

I think you need a carrot at the end of it all. To go out on the pitch is what I have always done since I have left school. I have been fortunate and privileged to do it and I will give it everything and make sure I do get back out there.

Daniel Sturridge<!–

Joe Thompson<!–

Bristol City squad<!–

A post on social media from May 8 this year when Thompson started his stem cell harvest treatment<!–

A post on social media from 8 May this year when Thompson started his stem cell harvest treatment

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