Tom Smith: Former British and Irish Lions prop reveals stage four cancer diagnosis
The Irish and British Lions squad that beat South Africa in 1997 was filled with giants.
The most styles of Keith Wood and Scott Gibbs, the towering presence of Lawrence Dallaglio and Martin Johnson. And also a quiet, loose-head prop known as Tom Smith.
Tom has been an amazing hero. He shunned the limelight. But he began every Exam on such excursion, and each Test about the Lions tour four years after in Australia. He had been a part of the great Scotland group that won the final Five Nations Championship in 1999.
I covered a lot of Scotland games that year, however Tom and I never met. Press officers knew not to ask him; in the phrasehe did his talking on the pitch. But I’m sitting opposite himacross the vanity of his home in France, doing the meeting no-one ever wants to do.
Because Tom has stage four cancer.
It is within his colon, and it’s spread to his liver and brain. For as long as you can, he is having treatment with the purpose of extending his time.
Tom is 48 and has three children – aged twenty five along with 18, 17. He and his family were about a canoe excursion to the Dordogne river, seemingly as autumn began this season.
However, Tom was attempting to dismiss pains in his belly which wouldn’t go off. He couldn’t sleep due to the distress dropped, and began passing blood. Deep down, he knew it was awful.
Eventually he was hauled by his wife Zoe in Bordeaux hospital to A&E, along with the life of the Smith family turned upside down.
“I played rugby for 15 decades professionally,” Tom says. “Aches and pains are part of the deal as you become older. I believe I wrote it off until it got to the stage that I had to do anything.
“I attempt to get on with things and that is probably my downfall.”
Even though he regrets that pragmatism -“I was an idiot to dismiss the symptoms,” he informs me about the phone after – which uncomplaining nature was typical of him as an individual player. It helped him cope with epilepsy throughout his acting career, and it’s something he will require a great deal of in the weeks ahead.
He has had two gruelling sessions of chemotherapy, and a course of radiotherapy. The prognosis is not good. The tumour in his colon has intended his diet is restricted; he even lost 10 kilos within 10 days. And alcohol is prohibited.
Tom recalls an early Scotland tour, when a no-booze rule had been inflicted by coach Jim Telfer. His first Weir had some other ideas, and Tom was inducted into’whisky club’. He felt well and truly welcomed to the group.
Doddie has motor neurone disease, and combined with many in the community, Tom has been involved with fundraising to support motor neurone study, in addition to that the Weir family. He played a benefit game before the Ireland v England match during this year’s Six Nations in Dublin.
Just a few months past, the future seemed clear; his children, Amelie and Angus, planning for college, his younger kid Teddy awaiting secondary school in a few years. He and wife Zoe purchased their dream house in France, they’re hoping to perform up and run as a small business enterprise. However, the rate of Tom’s disease has been terrifying.
He’s hoping a few of this generosity of spirit which imbues the sport he loves will be sent his way.
“Life has shifted very quickly,” he says. “I want to do the perfect thing for my loved ones; this leaves you somewhat vulnerable. I am fortunate enough to have a fantastic set of friends and a strong community helping and supporting.”
A fundraising dinner has been planned in London, in March 2020, by. Tom does not know whether he will make it himself.
In addition, a fundraising page has been installed, with charities focusing on bowel cancer, also encouraging families in financial hardship. But it’s clear that requesting aid runs completely against the grain because of this non human and humble individual.
I suggest to him this interview will unleash the outpouring of love across the rugby world, such as in Northampton, in which he performed for eight years and has been awarded a testimonial match and both teams raced out wearing number-one shirts in front of a packed Franklin’s Gardens.
He squirms when I imply he is among the legends of the game, and ask him exactly what he’d say to those fans who supported him throughout his playing career.
“Just… thank you,” he says. “I have always had a great relationship with the fans. That is such an game, and it feels fine to have people. Anything you need to do – send a prayer, a few positive vibes – it is all appreciated.”
Back on this Lions tour of 1997, Tom – 16st and 10in of him put his body from a South Africa front row that contained the giant prop Os du Randt – 3in and weighing 21st. He acknowledges that he was driven by that the fear of collapse into his playing career, although to all seeing, he appeared indomitable and nerveless. So what is his biggest fear?
“The doubt is something which provokes fear,” he says. “I’d like to earn as much certainty as I can into the potential of my loved ones. I will be helped by that.
“It’s quite daunting because a number of this treatment is extremely unpleasant. However, I’ve faced some tough opponents, and also is battle. So let us fight.”