Tom Smith: Former British and Irish Lions prop reveals stage four cancer diagnosis
The Irish and British Lions squad which beat against South Africa in 1997 was full of giants.
The personalities of Keith Wood and Scott Gibbs, the towering physical existence of Lawrence Dallaglio and Martin Johnson. And Tom Smith was known as by also a silent prop.
Tom was an amazing hero. He shunned the limelight. But he began each Test about the Lions tour, and every Test on that tour four decades after in Australia. He had been a part of this great Scotland staff that won the Five Nations Championship in 1999.
I covered a lot of Scotland games but I never met Tom. Press officers understood not to ask him; in the term he did his talking on the pitch. Now, however, I am sitting opposite him, across the vanity of his own house in France, performing the meeting wants to perform.
Since Tom has stage four cancer.
It is within his colon, and it’s spread to liver and his brain. He’s having intrusive treatment with the purpose of prolonging his time with his loved ones for as long as possible.
Tom is 48 and has three children – aged 18, 17 and eight. He and his family were about a excursion on the Dordogne river, seemingly without a care in the whole world this season as autumn began.
But Tom was trying to dismiss pains. He couldn’t sleep because of the discomfort lost weight, and began passing blood. Deep down, he knew it was awful.
Eventually he was hauled by his wife Zoe to A&E at Bordeaux hospital, and the life of the Smith family turned upside down.
“I played for 15 decades professionally,” Tom says. “Aches and pains are a part of this deal as you become older. I believe I wrote it off before it got to this point that I had to do some thing.
“I attempt to get on with things and that’s probably my downfall.”
Though he now regrets that pragmatism -“that I had been an idiot to dismiss the symptoms,” he tells me on the telephone after – which uncomplaining nature was typical of him as an individual participant. It helped him deal with epilepsy throughout his playing career, and it is something.
He has had two gruelling periods of chemotherapy, and a course of radiotherapy, with more to come. The prognosis isn’t good. The tumour in his colon has intended his diet is restricted; he even lost 10 kilos in 10 days. And alcohol is banned.
Tom remembers an early Scotland excursion, when coach Jim Telfer had inflicted a rule. His Weir had some other ideas, and Tom was inducted into’whisky team’. He felt well and truly welcomed into the group.
Doddie has combined with many in the rugby community, also motor neurone disease, Tom has been closely connected with finance to support the Weir family, as well as motor neurone study. He played in a benefit game prior to the Ireland v England match in Dublin in the Six Nations of this year.
Only a couple months ago, the future seemed clear; his senior kids, Amelie and Angus, planning his younger son, for college Teddy. He and wife Zoe purchased their dream home in France, which they are hoping to do up and operate as a small company. But the rate of Tom’s ailment was frightening.
He’s hoping a few of this temptations of spirit which imbues the sport he loves will be delivered his way.
“Life has changed very fast,” he states. “I need to do the right thing for my family; this leaves you somewhat vulnerable. I am lucky enough to have a fantastic set of friends and a strong community helping and supporting.”
A fundraising dinner has been planned in March 2020, to, in London. Tom doesn’t know whether he’ll make himself.
Furthermore, a research was installed, with charities focusing on bowel cancer, also supporting families in financial hardship. Nonetheless, it’s apparent that requesting aid runs entirely against the grain because of this man that is humble and non human.
I would suggest to this meeting could unleash the outpouring of love from across the rugby world, including in Northampton, in which he performed for eight years and has been awarded a testimonial game where both teams ran out wearing number one tops in front of a packed Franklin’s Gardens.
He squirms when I suggest he’s among the legends of the match, also ask him what he’d say to the fans that supported him.
“Just… thank you,” he says. “I have always had a good relationship with the fans. That is an available game, and it feels fine to get people pulling my direction. Anything you need to do – send a prayer, a few positive vibes – it is all appreciated.”
Back on that Lions tour of 1997, Tom – all 5ft 10in and 16st of him put his own body against a South Africa front row that featured the giant prop Os du Randt – 3in and weighing 21st. He acknowledges that he was driven by the fear of failure in his acting career, although to all watching, he appeared indomitable and nerveless. What is his greatest fear?
“The doubt is something which arouses fear,” he states. “I’d love to earn as much certainty as I would like into the potential of my loved ones. That will help me.
“It’s quite daunting because a number of the treatment is very unpleasant. But I’ve faced some hard opponents, and also is battle. So let us fight.”