Bury's Joe Thompson winning biggest fight of his life: beating cancer

Exclusive: Supporters and players have raised more than £20,000 under the banner Grow4Joe to help research in leukaemia and lymphoma
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The Independent Football

Joe Thompson will doubtless not get a look-in when they dish out the footballer of the year awards at the end of the season. That will be the domain of the pampered, highly paid world of the Premier League. But if there was an award for bravery and determination, then step forward Joe.

The Bury midfielder, like all professional footballers, wants to win every time. But whatever this season brings, the League Two player won't ever top the biggest victory of his life: beating cancer.

It will be a year ago on Wednesday when the former Rochdale and Tranmere player was given the devastating news that he had Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin's Lymphoma cancer.

Thompson, 24 at the time and playing for Tranmere, had noticed a swelling in his neck. Within weeks he was hit with the news that he had cancer. "My immediate thought was that I was going to die because everyone that I had associated with cancer has passed away," he admits.

Just two months earlier, Thompson was scoring two goals in Tranmere's 3-3 win with Crawley Town. "I was on top of the world then suddenly I hit a brick wall.

"Our next game was against Crewe and I was really struggling during the warm-up. When the game started it was like everything was going so fast, and I was moving in slow motion.

"I thought I must have had some sort of infection like glandular fever. But what I later found out was that I had tumours in my neck in my lymph glands on the left side.

"I carried on playing for the next four or five weeks but I was deteriorating, being sick and picking up infections you get when you haven't any immune system."

After undergoing a biopsy the week before, Thompson had to attend the Murrayfield Hospital on the Wirral to find out the results. He went there with his partner Chantelle and their daughter Thailula, who was one at the time.

"When we went in, straightaway I could see on the doctor's face that he was going to tell me something bad. There were tears straight-away, I don't like to admit it, but there were.

"After the news I had sleepless nights. One side effect of the cancer was that you had night sweats. One of the doctors told me that I had probably had cancer for two or three years but, because I was so fit, my body had adapted with it and was playing with it.

"I was at quite an advanced stage and one doctor did say that, in the worst case, I probably had six to nine months to live. But they also reassured me that I could get through it with the chemotherapy."

Footballers and other sports stars contacted Thompson when news of his cancer became public. Among them were the former England captain Bryan Robson. "I spoke to Bryan early on and he told me not to get too down when I was going through a bad time.

"They all spelled it out in black and white. They said, 'Look, it is going to be horrible but as long as you keep your family and loved ones around you, and make sure you have lots of positives around you then you'll get through'. I like to think that I have done.

"Jonas Gutierrez at Newcastle is suffering now. He has done the wise thing, going home and getting his family around him."

Supporters and players rallied behind Thompson's cancer battle and have raised more than £20,000 under the banner Grow4Joe to help research in leukaemia and lymphoma.

Thompson received the all-clear this June. "When they told me I was over the moon."

He was released by Tranmere this summer shortly after finishing six months of chemotherapy treatment. But Bury boss David Flitcroft gave him a one-year deal. Thompson admitted: "When I was diagnosed I was worried it could be the end of my career, but I thought that if I could get through all this then there was a chance I'd play again."

His first game after his cancer op was in August when Bury went to Bolton in the Capital One Cup. He replaced Ryan Lowe in the 85th minute. "Playing in that game was a massive moment for me, and it wiped out any doubts whether I'd play again."

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