Joe Thompson targets pre-season return at end of cancer treatment

By Phil CartwrightBBC Sport
Thompson grateful for Hutchins help

Joe Thompson hopes to join in with pre-season training at Tranmere once he has completed his cancer treatment.

The 25-year-old is approaching the end of a six-month course of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with nodular sclerosing Hodgkin lymphoma in October.

Thompson told BBC Late Kick Off North West that tennis player Ross Hutchins, who returned within 12 months of his cancer diagnosis, is his inspiration.

"It's proof that it can be done and that's my goal," said the midfielder.

Joe Thompson with girlfriend Chantelle Perry and daughter Thailula-Lily
Happy families: Joe Thompson with girlfriend Chantelle and daughter Thailula-Lily

"With my competitive nature, I'd like to be back [playing] within a year [of being diagnosed]. I'd see that as a sense of achievement. It might take me a bit longer, but we'll see.

"I've done a few jogs with the dog, but it's just whether the work I'm doing now is going to be any worth at all. At least I'm getting out there and getting fresh air, and making sure I'm not getting bogged down."

Hutchins, 29, was one of several sporting cancer survivors to offer their support to Thompson after news of his illness was made public.

The pair have been in frequent contact ever since, with Hutchins able to offer much-needed advice having been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in January 2013.

Just a year later, Hutchins was back in Grand Slam action at the Australian Open and he could be involved in Great Britain's Davis Cup tie in Italy later this week after being named in the squad as a reserve by captain Leon Smith.

Thompson, who has now completed nine of a scheduled 12 sessions of chemotherapy, added: "He [Hutchins] must have just got my number and thought 'I want to reach out to him'. He didn't have to do that and I really do appreciate it.

"I feel like I pester him from time to time. Half of the time I'm not sure what country he's in and whether he's awake to get back to the text.

"I spoke to him about two weeks ago because I'd had chemotherapy and it had gone well, and I thought it was time to start putting in some foundations and a plan."

Rochdale-born Thompson continued: "I asked how long it had taken him [to get back playing tennis] after he'd gone through it all. He said he'd done nothing for eight months, with being diagnosed and then having the treatment.

December 2013: Hutchins ready after cancer battle

"It took him three months or so to get back - he started really light, then did a few exercises to build his muscles up, and then the final month he got his racquet out."

Thompson is due to complete his chemotherapy in May, and understandably there is concern from his close family, who are keen for him to be cautious before thinking of a comeback.

"I don't think the people around him will let him rush back into it," said Chantelle Perry, Thompson's girlfriend and mother to their 18-month-old daughter Thailula-Lily. "If he had his way, he would. But I just think 'what's a year out of your life?'

"He's eager, especially now that he's coming towards the end. He's thinking about having the summer to getting his fitness back to normal and joining in with pre-season.

"I'm letting him lead the way to a certain extent. But a nice holiday at the end of the chemotherapy will be the first thing we do, and just relax for a few weeks."

Football has rallied around to support Thompson during his illness, with many clubs pledging to help the "Grow 4 Joe"external-link campaign, which is raising money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.external-link

Tranmere and Thompson's former side Rochdale have led the way, with Rovers fans applauding in the seventh minute of every match to show their backing for their number seven.

But players from club such as Bristol City and Oxford United - teams with which he has no previous affiliation - are also participating in the fundraising effortexternal-link by growing their hair and beards for the remainder of the season.

The aim is to raise awareness of the symptoms of his illness - Thompson had been suffering from increased fatigue before discovering a lump in his neck - and says he would have sought medical attention sooner had he known the extent of his problem.

Perry added: "We didn't think there were any symptoms of cancer, apart from a lump. But Joe was suffering quite a lot that he wasn't even aware of.

"If we'd have known that previously, we would have suspected and gone to the doctors sooner. People aren't aware. You just think you're feeling for a lump."

More than 80% of Hodgkin lymphoma patients survive more than five years after their diagnosis, according to the latest figures from Cancer Research UK.external-link

Thompson said: "It was a bit of a shock, but my initial reaction with the doctor was 'where do we go from here and how do we get it sorted?' I think that's just my mentality in life.

"I didn't think the worst, but I can understand why people do think 'this is the end'.

"It felt like it had been sent to me to wake me up, and to say 'you're not invincible and you can't beat everything'. But I'll make sure I beat this. Definitely.

"I've always said to Chantelle that it's a life test. If we get through this, we'll breeze it."

Watch an extended interview with Joe Thompson on Monday's BBC Late Kick Off at 23:20 BST (North West region only).