11: DT38

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

James: I'm James Parkinson and this is By Association, a show about football and the connection we all share with the beautiful game.

This is the story of Dylan Tombides. The young Australian footballer who’s brave battle with testicular cancer inspired the Foundation in his name and left a legacy that aims to educate and raise awareness, throughout the football community and beyond.

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James: Dylan was raised in Perth, Western Australia and from a very early age, football became his focus.

Tracy: So as soon as Dylan could walk, Dylan was learning to kick a ball with both feet. So I think at about 18 months old he was outside kicking left and right footed.

James: This Tracy Tombides.

Tracy: And I’m the founder of DT38 but more importantly, I’m Dylan and Taylor’s mum.

Dylan was, he was the life and soul of any environment that he was in. He was just a person that enjoyed waking up in the morning, enjoyed going off to football, enjoyed being around people and he was just always laughing. It was, you know, very unusual to see Dylan sitting idle and you know, he just was somebody that was always active and enjoying himself.

His first competitive game was at 5 years of age. He played for the local club, Wembley Downs, scored a goal with his first touch. So you know, he was just somebody that just loved the game, loved the sport.

James: Dylan’s father, Jim was the stay at home parent when he was young and played an important role in his early development.

By the age of 11 Dylan moved onto Stirling Lions Soccer Club for a season before joining Perth SC. In 2007, the family moved to Macau, but that didn’t stop Dylan and his younger brother Taylor from playing as much football as they could.

Tracy: So the boys came up to Macau with us and they would play and train locally but on the weekends they would travel over to Hong Kong which was an hour ferry ride, in through immigration and everything like that - to train on Friday night, play in a Saturday competition and play Saturday afternoon with the Coerver setup over there. So even when we went abroad their focus was on football and while we were over there it was a predominantly Portuguese culture. And so we’d geared up Dylan to go and have a couple of trials in Portugal.

He turned, I think he was turning 13 at that age and it was clear that he was - you know, if he had a chance, Macau was not the place for him to be and I certainly had opportunities for employment around the world.

James: Mike Leigh, one of Dylan's former coaches back in Perth who was also an Academy scout for West Ham United, suggested Dylan visit the East London club first.

Tracy: And I said, “Well alright, we can do that”. So that’s what we did, we went via West Ham and as it turned out, Tony Carr really liked Dylan. He trialled for four weeks with the Under 18’s and basically said, you know, if Dylan was a local boy up here we would be signing him.

And that’s when Jim said, well we actually have that opportunity because of Tracy relocating here for work. And so once I relocated for work, Dylan signed up with West Ham.

James: By this time, Dylan was 15 years old and he quickly adapted to life at the club.

Tracy: Yeah, Dylan took it in his stride very well, you know. It’s a very competitive and sometimes hostile environment because you’re there to either take somebody’s place or you’re there to push somebody out of the team. But he took it all in his stride. And this is what he loved, he loved getting up every morning and going down. They had a really good group go through the U/15s to U/17s, U/18s group up here. They had five kids that were just really, really talented and you know he really enjoyed it. He loved the club environment, he loved the people down there and he just was thriving.

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James: Two years later, for Dylan, and his family things were about to change…

Tracy: Dylan was at home one time and he said you know, “I’ve lot a lump on my testicle”, and I said, “well, we’ll just make a doctors appointment, let’s get you down to the doctor”. So, we went through, you know, what does it feel like? And he said “it doesn’t hurt, it’s just there and sometimes I feel it, sometimes I can’t”. And I said, “Alright, we’ll get it checked out”.

So we went and checked it out with the doctor and Dylan being Dylan, at age 17, you couldn’t go into the appointment with him, you know. So he went into the doctor's appointment and the doctor had told him that it was just a cyst and that everything was alright. So it was the sort of news that you wanted to hear.

James: That left Dylan to finish the season with West Ham. He was breaking into the first team at this point and was on bench for the final game of the season on May 22nd. The following month he joined up with Australia’s U/17’s as they prepared for the World Cup in Mexico. Dylan was a key player, featuring in all four of Australia’s matches before they were eliminated in the Round of 16.

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James: Following the tournament, Dylan and his father decided to spend an extra week in Mexico on holiday, but a random drug test conducted during the competition had returned positive - either for a banned substance, or a tumor. It was confirmed that Dylan had testicular cancer.

Tracy: The Australian doctor called him and said that he needed to see a doctor straight away. So they called me from Mexico and it was just, it was numbing. He was somebody that had the world at his feet, you know. I think for me, the biggest regret I had was not letting the doctors know at West Ham that there was something wrong because they certainly would’ve picked it up.

His last few days in Cancun were really low for him and when he arrived back, we took him to the hospital and he had an ultrasound and it showed that he had a tumor on his testical and required to have that removed immediately and start chemo because it had spread outside his testi.

James: There was no doubt that Dylan was in for a fight but after the initial shock, his positive attitude helped him through it.

Tracy: His attitude was just amazing, you know. He’d wake up some mornings and he’d go “I’m the happiest kid with cancer”, you know, “I’m playing my football”. He always had this attitude that his football was always gonna be there, his cancer wasn’t. You know, I remember the first lot of treatment that he had with chemo, it was all done around his training schedule.

But he hated that, he hated being in hospital. He wouldn’t have people visit him. He did not want people to see him as a patient, he wanted people to see him as the person that he wanted to be which was an athlete, which was a footballer.

For a number of months and that there was a lot of hope, you know. You start out being told that this is a really easy disease to treat, that the rate of survival is very high. You know, so you’re told all good news. And Dylan’s cancer responded each time but it never actually killed off the cells and there was just one thing after another. Dylan’s treatment was not handled well.

James: A common medication used in cancer treatment is Bleomycin but one of its side effects is inflammation of the lungs. Because Dylan was an athlete, he wasn’t given the drug. But he wasn’t given another medication in its place either. He was also supposed to receive scans in between cycles of chemotherapy but because his tumour markers were low, the doctors decided it wasn’t necessary.

Then further complications arose with a blood clot in Dylan’s lungs.

Tracy: So while he was in hospital having medication to thin the blood clot out, his tumor markers started rising again. So they couldn’t determine whether the cancer cells that they were now seeing were new or whether they were old.

James: And that meant another cycle of chemo. Every time Dylan would go through treatment, the cancer would return just weeks later, stronger than before.

But as it always had done, football kept Dylan going.

Tracy: It was during this next period that Dylan was an out patient and he was able to train and train quite hard and this is where he was in a position to make his debut for West Ham in September.

James: On the 25th of September, 2012, Dylan came off the bench in the 84th minute in a League Cup match versus Wigan.

Tracy: And the thing for Dylan was, you know it was a really big deal for him, you know. This was a dream come true for him.

James: For Dylan and his family, the support from West Ham United was immeasurable.

Tracy: All through this process the West ham club couldn’t have been any more helpful, they couldn’t have done any more, you know? Even to the point where Karren Brady and Doctor Richard Wheeler, they had pulled together a consortium of oncologists from around the world for a medical conference.

James: They decided the best course of action was high dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplants.

Tracy: But by this stage we’ve got some doctors talking 4 percent chance of survival and some being as generous as 10 percent. And you know, when you hear those figures, that your sons got a 10 percent chance of surviving, how do you comprehend that?

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James: By March 2013, the cancer had returned yet again, this time in Dylan’s liver. Surgery put him out of action for three months and he missed the Under 20 World Cup. His fight continued throughout the remainder of the year. More procedures and more chemotherapy.

But Dylan was determined to make the Under 22 World Cup in Oman in January 2014. And remarkably, only weeks after another cycle of chemo, he did.

Tracy: Three weeks later he’s in Oman playing for Australia. And that just in itself was awe-inspiring for us. He was just so determined, you know, he had the support staff around him at the club that made sure everything was at his disposal.

James: But following the tournament, Dylan was informed that the cancer had not responded to the latest treatment….

Tracy: And they could no longer offer Dylan a cure. So we decided that we needed to look at alternatives.

And so we went off to Germany and they said to us, they were actually amazed that this patient that was coming to them was playing football at International level and that he had amassed muscle, when chemotherapy strips you of all that. And they were in awe of what he had done for the last three years to continue his life.

But they said right from the off that our biggest concern is the fact that Dylan has had seven chemotherapy regimes and the amount of stress on his organs will have an impact. And that’s pretty much what happened. Dylan’s organs started to fail and the cancer had just run amok.

James: Dylan passed away in Germany, surrounded by his family on the 18th of April, 2014.

Tracy: West Ham continued to look after us all the way. West Ham wanted to retire his shirt the very next day.

James: Only one other West Ham player has had their shirt number retired by the club - the great Bobby Moore. Now Dylan and his number 38 had also received that honour.

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James: Shortly after Dylan passed away, Tracy set about creating a charity in Dylan’s memory. One that would not only honor Dylan life but work to prevent others going through similar struggles the Tombides family faced.

Tracy: The seed was starting to plant within a few weeks after Dylan passed, purely because of people saying, “do you want flowers?” or “do you want money donated in Dylan’s memory?”. And I was adamant that - I’d gone home, in Perth and I was sitting with Dylan and Taylor’s mates and we were just talking after his funeral one day. And they were saying, “Trace, we still don’t know what Dylan’s symptoms were, we don’t know what to look out for, we don’t know anything about the disease Dylan had.

James: The result is DT38 - The Dylan Tombides Foundation. It’s mission is to raise awareness and change the stigma associated with men’s health issues with a focus on testicular cancer. The Foundation provides educational programmes and opportunities for young people - to help drive self awareness about their health and wellbeing.

Natasha: We combine our message with football and through educational opportunities for kids but also for young men and we do it in a forum which a lttle bit relaxed and a bit more fun and sort of help stimulate those conversations which people might not know how to do so much themselves.

James: This is Natasha Evans, the Managing Director for DT38. In addition to working in high schools, the Foundation reaches younger students too. Natasha has written a children's picture book that, along with a teaching programme, helps to tell Dylan’s story and convey a positive message.

Natasha: What the book does is tell Dylan’s story from, you know, in a kid friendly way. So we’re using animal characters to tell the story and it focuses on him starting off as a little cub who had all these hopes and dreams and goals he wanted to achieve and how he went about doing them. So, the importance of family and friends. And then we touch on the cancer but the cancer is actually represented by a snake, so this character, it’s representing cancer in Dylan’s life but it represents any challenge you can come across in your life.

James: The football community has been pivotal in helping to communicate the Foundation's message, from West Ham themselves, who made DT38 one of its principal charities, to the Australian national team.

Daniel: Firstly, the link up with West Ham has been absolutely impeccable.

James: That’s Daniel Garb, a football journalist for Fox Sports Australia and DT38 ambassador.

Daniel: And that goes to show what the football community there has been doing, and also here. I mean, the Socceroos have been instrumental as well in supporting the organisation and the main person for that is the captain, Mile Jedinak, who is the cheif ambassador for DT38. He has become very close with the Tombides family. He’s supported them, both as a friend and the Foundation. And also through the Socceroos and through Crystal Palace. He was able to get both teams to wear DT38 shirts when Crystal Palace played West Ham in the Premier League, his old club. He’s got the Socceroos to do videos and wear the DT38 shirt as well and to constantly promote it. And then in WA, Football West and Perth Glory have gotten behind it as well. There’s a statue of Dylan outside Perth Oval, which obviously the fans walk past ahead of every Perth Glory game. So that goes to show how the football community has got behind it in a big way.

Natasha: The response obviously from the fans too has been brilliant, you know. The respect that they had for Dylan and continue to have for him and the charity, I guess it just shows the impact that football can have and it doesn’t matter what level it is. We’re very grateful for all the relationships we’ve formed in the football community.

Daniel: There’s a family feel around football and everyone, whether you work in the media, as an administartor or as a player, everyone shares that same common goal. And this has been certainly representative of that and to be involved with the organisation, for me is a wonderful privelage.

Tracy: If football can be the platform for people to sit up and take notice about it then great, we’ll take advantage of that.

James: Guys, I’m talking to you now. If you notice any pain or anything that isn’t right, please see your doctor and insist on an ultrasound. Testicular cancer has a 98% survival rate, but early detection is the key. For more information about the Dylan Tombides Foundation visit DT38.co.uk

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James: By Association is produced by me, James Parkinson. A huge thank you to Tracy Tombides for opening up about Dylan’s story and thanks also to Natasha Evans and Daniel Garb.

Music featured in this episode comes from Chris Zabriskie, Josh Woodward and Broke for Free under Creative Commons.

Support for By Association comes from listeners just like you. If you want sneak peaks of new episodes before they’re released and other behind the scenes content, please consider supporting me on Patreon for as little as $1 a month. Full details at byassociation.audio/support.

And pick yourself up something nice from the new look 3nilfc.com, where we always love the game.


This is the story of Dylan Tombides. The young Australian footballer who’s brave battle with testicular cancer inspired the Foundation in his name and left a legacy that aims to educate and raise awareness, throughout the football community and beyond.

Dylan was raised in Perth, Western Australia and from a very early age, football became his focus. His father, Jim was the stay at home parent and played an important role in his early development.

By the age of 11 Dylan moved onto Stirling Lions Soccer Club for a season before joining Perth SC. In 2007, the family moved to Macau, but that didn’t stop Dylan and his younger brother Taylor from playing as much football as they could. They would play and train locally in Macau but would travel to Hong Kong on the weekends for more serious matches and training.

Given the Portuguese culture in Macau, the opportunity arose for Dylan to participate in some trials in Portugal. But Mike Leigh, one of Dylan's former coaches back in Perth who was also an Academy scout for West Ham United, suggested Dylan visit the East London club first. After a four week trial with the Under 18s, Tony Carr was impressed with Dylan. His family had the opportunity to move to London and so Dylan signed with West Ham. By this time, Dylan was 15 years old and he quickly adapted to life at the club, in what was a very competitive environment.

But two years later, for Dylan, and his family things were about to change. One day at home, Dylan noticed a lump on his testicle. He immediately went to the doctor for a checkup who told him it was just a cyst and nothing to worry about. That left Dylan to finish the season with West Ham. He was breaking into the first team at this point and was on bench for the final game of the season on May 22nd. The following month he joined up with Australia’s U/17s as they prepared for the World Cup in Mexico. Dylan was a key player, featuring in all four of Australia’s matches before they were eliminated in the Round of 16.

Following the tournament, Dylan and his father decided to spend an extra week in Mexico on holiday, but a random drug test conducted during the competition had returned positive - either for a banned substance, or a tumour. It was confirmed that Dylan had testicular cancer. There was no doubt that he was in for a fight. Every time he would go through treatment, the cancer would return just weeks later, stronger than before.

But as it always had done, football kept Dylan going. His determination and positive attitude  saw him make his first team debut for West Ham on the 25th of September, 2012, coming off the bench in the 84th minute in a League Cup match versus Wigan. It was a dream come true. The immense support from the club was also on show, allowing Dylan to get the most out of his training and making sure his chemotherapy treatment had as little impact on his football as possible.

By March 2013, the cancer had returned yet again, this time in Dylan’s liver. Surgery put him out of action for three months and he missed the Under 20 World Cup. His fight continued throughout the remainder of the year. More procedures and more chemotherapy. But Dylan was determined to make the U22 AFC Championships in Oman in January 2014. And remarkably, only three weeks after his latest cycle of chemo, he did.

But after the tournament, Dylan was informed that the cancer had not responded to the latest treatment and his doctors said they could no longer offer him a cure. Searching for hope, Dylan and his family went to Germany. The doctors there were in awe of Dylan and the way he’d fought the disease over the previous three years and still managed to play football at international level. Unfortunately though, they couldn’t offer him good news. After seven chemotherapy treatments they were concerned about the stress on Dylan’s organs. And soon enough, his organs began to fail.

Dylan passed away in Germany, surrounded by his family on the 18th of April, 2014. The very next day, West Ham retired Dylan’s number 38. Only one other West Ham player has had their shirt number retired by the club - the great Bobby Moore. Now Dylan had also received that honour.

Shortly after Dylan passed away, his mother, Tracy set about creating a charity in his memory. One that would not only honour Dylan’s life but work to prevent others going through similar struggles the Tombides family faced. The result is DT38, The Dylan Tombides Foundation. It’s mission is to raise awareness and change the stigma associated with men’s health issues with a focus on testicular cancer. The Foundation provides educational programmes and opportunities for young people - to help drive self awareness about their health and wellbeing.

The football community has been pivotal in helping to communicate the Foundation's message, from West Ham themselves, who made DT38 one of its principal charities, to the Australian national team. Dylan’s memory lives on, as does his impact on football and cancer awareness.

* Correction: The "Under 22 World Cup in Oman" mentioned in this episode actually refers to the 2013 U-22 AFC Championships, held in January 2014. 

 

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