Tom Smith: The Scottish and Lions legend discusses his cancer diagnosis
“My then eight-year-old asked if I was going to die. It’s difficult to answer a question when you don’t really know the answer.
“I said, ‘No, I’m not ready to die. I’m not going anywhere, you’re stuck with me.’ I had crossed everything under the covers. “
This was the reality that former British and Irish Lions propeller Tom Smith had to go through when he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in November 2019.
“I felt pretty exposed at the time,” Smith, 49, told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Eleanor Oldroyd.
“It was pretty scary for my family at first because the first month or two was pretty touching.”
Smith, who made 67 international appearances – 61 for Scotland and six for the Lions – is now “fine” after having a successful radiology in his brain while his liver and lungs also got the all-clear.
“We’re just dealing with the abdominal lymph nodes and colon, which are all stable, so it’s good,” says Smith.
“I still have chemotherapy every two weeks. It takes three days – I go on Monday morning and go in the evening and have two days at home with a pump and medication, and I just keep going.
“It’s a very different place from a year ago and even six months ago.”
Smith admits it was “a shock” to be told he would have to continue chemotherapy for the rest of his life, but “is more of a reason to encourage people to get checked-ups sooner”.
He’s worked with the charity Fortitude to raise awareness about colon cancer – it’s currently the UK’s second highest-ranked cancer killer – and he says it is being “talked about less than it should be.”
“You have to be comfortable talking about feces. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things. It’s worth checking our inhibitions and getting lost,” said Smith.
“I spoke to a group of rugby players a few days ago and part of rugby is getting down and moving on, and you can’t be like that with your own well-being, and that probably caught my eye.
“I had some pain in my ribs and stomach and I just kept going and ended up in A&E with too much pain to function.
“It was very enjoyable – I got a couple of messages from people who were screened and who got the message through either my situation or Fortitude, who had been picked up, had surgery and were on the mend.
“There can be good results from a terrible situation.”