BATTLING JOE IS AN INSPIRATION
JOE Thompson stands tall as a symbol of hope that transcends the game. That may sound grandiose at first but perhaps less so when you consider that the Rochdale midfielder has beaten cancer not once, but twice and is now working towards lacing up his boots once again. In March, the 28-year-old’s life was thrust into turmoil for the second time as he discovered that the nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma he had successfully overcome in 2014 had returned. Father-of-one Thompson was put through the wringer of all wringers once again but refused to submit to his illness and, on June 21, he was able to triumphantly tweet: ‘THOMPSON 2 Cancer 0’. The stories of Wolves’ Carl Ikeme and Middlesbrough’s Anthony Renton, who were both recently diagnosed with leukaemia, and young Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery, who died last month at the age of six after a long battle with neuroblastoma, resonate with Thompson, so does he believe that his extraordinary tale can inspire others forced to face such hardship?
“It feels extreme saying it, but I do feel like I am probably something that they will keep an eye on, because we’ve all been in the same boat – we’re all footballers, we’re all competitive, and it is a disease that affects so many,” said the Dale man.
“I’m in a good place to be able to talk about it and I did feel like it would raise awareness, because I’ve come out the other end.
“I’ve spoken to all those lads and there are a lot of questions that they can’t answer themselves, whereas I can now look back having done it and make light of it, spread a message, but also be positive for them as well.
“I do kind of feel like some people are surprised when it affects a footballer because they seem invincible at times and they put them up on that pedestal. But it can affect anybody and it does affect anybody.
“Getting through it twice; I am proud of the achievement in a way. But it’s just one of those things – when it’s thrown on your toes, I would expect you to do the exact same thing.
“I’ve said to numerous people now that I do and did look at it like a football match; you win or I win – pretty simple.
“I’m going to go to penalties, you know what I mean? But when it’s a game of life, it’s not to be taken for a joke.”
‘Normality’ is now the word on Thompson’s lips.
Having left the Christie cancer treatment centre in Manchester, which he holds in the highest regard, the Rochdale man has returned to everyday life with wife Chantelle and young daughter Thailula-Lily, and, just a few weeks ago, he reunited with his other family.
Thompson is nowhere near returning to full training with his club but being back at Spotland has convinced him that he wants to be back on the pitch by the end of the year.
“It’s been a breath of fresh air. They’ve treated me normally. The banter’s still the same,” he said. The manager (Keith Hill) has treated me the same.
“If anyone’s moaning about training being hard, I think to myself: ‘hold on a second’but, they’ve never been in my situation, so they can’t see it through my eyes.
“(I want to be back by) November or December. It’s a realistic time-frame as well. It might be a bit longer.
“It’s just competing; I love to compete and I love to win.”