11: DT38

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.