I just said: Dad, could this kill me Hammers kid Dylan relives his 10-month hell fighting cancer
22:01 GMT, 29 May 2012
Each morning around nine o’clock, Dylan Tombides crawls out of bed, walks to the bathroom in a sleepy fog and looks into the mirror.
Staring back at the young West Ham striker is a thick, 12-inch scar running from the centre of his chest to his belly button.
That’s when the flashbacks begin, taking this 18-year-old professional footballer back to the moment he wondered whether he would ever pull on the famous claret and blue again.
Hammer blow: Dylan Tombides is keen to get his promising career back on track after almost a year battling cancer
Already a regular goalscorer in the reserves, Tombides was looking forward to pre-season training with the Hammers’ first team after playing for Australia in the Under 17 World Cup in Mexico last summer.
He was in Cancun for a few days ‘chilling out with the old man’ when he took the telephone call that ripped his life apart.
A random drugs test, taken after his team were beaten 4-0 by Uzbekistan, had uncovered a tumour on one of his testicles.
Tombides was 17, tipped for the top by academy director Tony Carr and had already made the first-team bench for a Barclays Premier League game.
Trembling with fear and feeling faint, he turned to his father, Jimmy: ‘Dad, could this kill me’ His face went white.
‘I was 17, a young man and I had never come across cancer,’ he admitted at the family home a short walk from West Ham’s training ground. ‘All I was thinking about was getting in the West Ham team and taking my driving test.’
Making good progress: Tombides made his way in the West Ham youth team and then went on to make the first team squad
This is the story of surgery and endless courses of chemotherapy. But when we meet, Tombides bounces around the family home, putting wax in his hair for the photographs (and the girls) and squirming with embarrassment when mum Tracylee tries to give her son a kiss on the cheek.
‘I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time,’ he said. ‘All I ever wanted to be was a top professional footballer with West Ham. I copped one in my groin against Brazil at the World Cup and I knew that I had a problem, but I had no idea it was cancer.
‘It was only when I took the phone call in Cancun that I realised just how serious the condition was. I had the blood tests and CT scans when I got back to England and they told me I needed to have a testicle removed immediately.
Early mementos: Tomnides kept his early West Ham and Australia shirts and has a signed shirt by cyclist Lance Armstrong
‘I just accepted it. I mean, it was hurting me so much anyway it seemed sensible.’
All he could think about was getting back on to the football field, joining the Hammers in their promotion push and putting the ball in the back of the net again.
The club’s chief executive Karren Brady called his mum to offer her support and his team-mates stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him throughout the traumatic days ahead.
He had a 45-minute procedure, but that was just the start. Tombides spent weeks at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, falling in and out of consciousness while his mum, dad and younger brother Taylor, who is also at West Ham, sat by his bedside each night.
Tracylee said: ‘It was a period of helplessness. As a parent we wanted to protect our kids, but we had no control.
Family support: Tombides has had the support of his dad Jim, brother Taylor and mum Tracylee
‘I often thought cancer would happen in the lives of our family at some point, but not my kids.’
Some days Tombides would be in hospital, hooked up to the chemotherapy lines for seven hours, with tubes connected to him so that he could barely move.
‘I’d wake up for 15 minutes and I would be exhausted. They would give me anti-sickness tablets and I would think I’d only been sick a couple of times in the night.
Then Mum would look at me and put me right — it was more like seven or eight.
‘There were times when I would just look at Mum and tell her, “I don’t want the chemo any more, I will live with the cancer”. That’s how I felt at times.
‘It took five to 10 days to bounce back from each chemo blast and there is no trick to dealing with it.
‘My team-mates wanted to visit me but I told them not to because I couldn’t stay awake for longer than 15 minutes and couldn’t always remember what was happening.’
Fighter: Tombides wants to get back on the pitch
When he was allowed out of hospital for a few days, there were times when he would make the short walk to the training ground, popping in to see the players for lunch before he went back to bed for the afternoon.
It lifted his spirits and the players responded, wearing T-shirts in his honour before West Ham’s home game with Nottingham Forest in January.
Then he had to have another operation after doctors discovered a four-inch blood clot on his abdomen and cancer cells on his lymph nodes.
‘I spent 11 days in hospital after that and it wasn’t pleasant. I woke up to a huge scar and couldn’t use my core muscles for weeks.
‘I had to work out how to roll in and out of bed because it was so painful and it was weeks before I was allowed to do any exercise.
‘I just wanted to play football again, but there was so much scar tissue I had to be careful. I spent a lot of time on the exercise bike or in the swimming pool, not rushing anything.’
He is full of enthusiasm now, enjoying his freedom and his football after returning to training this week. He will have another nine monthly blood tests before he can be given the all-clear, a date circled in the family diary as he focuses on the future.
West Ham’s physio Jon Urwin, who ran the London Marathon last month in aid of Children with Cancer, has been with him throughout, talking to him about his future and his plans for the summer, which he will spend training at Chadwell Heath as he targets a squad number under Sam Allardyce next season.
He added: ‘It has been a long process, but all I ever wanted to do was play football again.’
After 10 months out of action, he is determined to take his second chance.