FORMER Scotland and Lions legend Tom Smith has revealed that he has advanced cancer which started in his colon and has now advanced to his liver and brain. He is undergoing intensive rounds of chemotherapy, aimed at halting the tumour’s growth, and radiotherapy to treat the lesions in his brain.
The 48-year-old, who was capped 61 times for Scotland including the 1999 Five Nations winnings side and was a key member of the legendary Lions pack which defeated South Africa in 1997 as well as on the less successful 2001 tour to Australia, was diagnosed in August this year.
“I played rugby for 15 years professionally. Aches and pains are part of the deal as you get older. I think I wrote it off until it got to the point that I needed to do something,” explained Smith, who now lives in the south of France with his wife Zoe and three children Angus (18), Amelie (17) and Teddy (9), in an interview with the BBC. “I try to get on with things and that’s probably my downfall.”
“Life has changed very quickly,” he added. “I want to do the right thing for my family; this all leaves you a bit exposed. I’m lucky enough to have a good group of friends and a strong community helping and supporting.”
“The uncertainty is something which provokes fear. I’d like to bring as much certainty as I can to the future of my family. That will help me.
“It’s quite daunting because some of the treatment is very unpleasant. But I’ve faced some tough opponents, and the least you can do is fight. So let’s fight.”
A fundraising dinner is planned in London, in March 2020, to which his team-mates from the 1997 Lions and 1999 Scotland squad have committed their time, although it is not clear at this stage whether Smith himself will make it.
In addition, a fundraising page has been set up to raise money for charities focusing on bowel cancer and supporting families in financial hardship as the result of cancer.
Current national team head coach Gregor Townsend, who was a team-mate of Smith’s at club level in France with Brive, for Scotland and on that 1997 Lions tour, paid tribute to Smith.
“Tom’s achievement of starting six Lions Tests in a row between that tour of South Africa and then the 2001 tour of Australia is a testament of how highly he was regarded as a player,” he said
“Fearsomely strong and competitive, he went about his business undemonstratively, but also had an outrageous skillset.
“I remember the tight-head prop at Brive giving him a dressing down after one game when he got on the ball quickly after a scrum and broke through the defence. He was reminded that the prop’s role in France is to keep pushing in the scrum and not to worry about making ball carries. Of course, Tom ignored his advice and forged his own path, as he has always done.
“He has shown a similar determination that – as someone who suffered from epilepsy – having such a condition did not mean it was a barrier to playing sport.
“The inspiration he has provided as an ambassador for epilepsy charities, in Scotland and Hong Kong, just underlines how Tom has continued to put others before himself.
“For me, Tom is the outstanding Scotland player of the professional era and I’m sure rugby supporters throughout Scotland and the world will rally behind him and his family in these tough times.”