Tom Smith: I feel very fortunate
The continental ring tone is interrupted. “Hello,” comes the response, alongside a few hearty intakes of air. Tom Smith, the former Scotland, and British & Irish Lions prop, who has been fighting colon/bowel cancer for 14 months, is on his exercise bike and he suggests we catch up in half an hour.
Gladly. It renders the opening question redundant, for, self-evidently, he is doing well.
The bike is his preference for “getting the heart rate up” as exercise, along with small changes in his diet including eating more fresh vegetables, are part of his routine.
Back in November, he did his first running in about 14 months, so keen was he to get fitter.
“But running on a tarmac road meant the old rugby injuries came back and I couldn’t walk for about a week afterwards,” he recalled. So, the exercise bike is now but one outlet for Smith’s renowned resolve.
In the autumn of 2019, the 49-year-old former Scotland captain, capped 61 times between 1997 and 2005, and who made six Test appearances for the British & Irish Lions on tours to South Africa and Australia, was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer.
In the interim, he has had more than 40 doses of chemotherapy and sundry other medication. There were days when he would have multiple injections and tablets.
Throughout it all, his determination and the support of his family, rugby and the wider community who have showered him with love and willingly fund-raised on his behalf, have made a huge difference.
He readily acknowledges how much that support has meant to him, not just materially, but psychologically too.
“The fund-raising and support have been amazing. You are sat in hospital and you feel as they do the tests that this is serious. It’s quite frightening. You realise just how exposed you are, and you can feel you are on your own,” he said in an interview with scottishrugby.org.
Whether a major fund-raising dinner in London, events at rugby clubs on both sides of the border as former clubs like Dundee HSFP and Watsonians rallied round, fellow Scotland captain Rob Wainwright organising a Wounded Lions charity cycle from Twickenham to BT Murrayfield ahead of last year’s Calcutta Cup, and Scottish Rugby’s own charity, the Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation, offering invaluable assistance, Smith is very grateful.
“The reality is we were looking down the abyss at one point. I feel very fortunate,” he said.
Now, typically, Smith is looking to give something back, as he steps into an ambassadorial role with 40tude, a bowel cancer charity.
“I’ve been ok,” he explains from his home in the south of France.
“I have been doing fine. It’s always a bit tough in the winter with the chemo as your extremities, your fingers and toes, are more sensitive to the cold.”
Every fortnight Smith has chemotherapy. “The tumour is getting smaller and is under control. The cancer is stable. The lesions on my brain, there’s no sign of any problem, any return.
“The chemo now is a lot easier than it was at the start when I had to stay in hospital and I would be pretty much out of it for a day or two,” he said.
“You have to regard this as a chronic condition, so you don’t stop the chemotherapy treatment. I had to get my head around that, but the chemo will stop it [the cancer] coming back.”
Coping too with the Covid-19 restrictions has been part of the challenge that Tom has faced this past year, but he notes that he’s probably enjoyed more family time as a result, as his older children Angus and Amelie are on home study from University, joining Tom, wife Zoe and youngest child Teddy in France.
He first became aware of the charity, 40tude, around the time of Rob Wainwright’s Wounded Lions cycle, as that charity was beneficiary along with the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation.
He said: “I’m delighted to support this innovative charity. 40tude is focused on improving the early detection and treatment of colon cancer because, if we do that, more lives can be saved.
“It’s really important for everyone, both men and women, to be aware of the symptoms of colon cancer – the second most common cancer in the UK – and to act if you spot them because if identified early, colon cancer is much easier to treat.
“Just now, more than ever, we need to take personal responsibility for this because many doctors are currently supporting the NHS in the fight against Covid-19.
“Symptoms you should look for include a persistent change in your bowel habits, blood in your stool or abdominal pain. If you experience any of these, you should seek advice urgently from your GP. Don't delay in getting help. It could make all the difference.
“The good news is that colon cancer is treatable if it is detected early. The best way to detect colon cancer is through regular screening,” he added.
Tom Smith was also guest on this week’s Official Scottish Rugby Podcast, along with Scotland forwards coach, John Dalziel. Listen here:
In Scotland, bowel screening is offered to men and women aged 50 to 74 to help find bowel/colon cancer early when it can often be cured. According to the website nhsinform.scot, you're 14 times more likely to survive bowel cancer if it's found early.
For more information on the charity for which Tom is now an ambassador or to make a donation, please go to www.40tude.org.uk.
You can support the Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation by donating via this page: https://www.justgiving.com/murrayfieldcentenaryfun...