DT38 Foundation was launched in 2015 to raise awareness to the risks of testicular cancer, following the passing of former West Ham United and Australia Under-22 striker Dylan Tombides in 2014 at the age of 20.
During his time at the Hammers the Aussie forward made an impact and was honoured by the club in March with the opening of the Dylan Tombides Learning Centre at the Academy of Football.
Following his passing the London club retired the number 38 shirt in Dylan’s memory, the only other player afforded this honour was club legend Bobby Moore (number six).
Dylan was a very special young man.
Not simply because he was a talented young footballer who was widely tipped to become a big star, but because of his attitude to life when the boots were off.
Dylan’s remarkable story is one of courage, laughter, pain and achievement.
He was just 17 years old when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, a disease he refused to let define him.
Despite three years of gruelling treatment during his time at West Ham United, Dylan trained, he played, he scored, he celebrated and he laughed, a lot.
Off the football pitch Dylan was adored because his sense of humour led the way, on the pitch he was admired because his dedication and talent were breath taking.
It was in April 2011 that Dylan found a lump on his testicle.
He didn’t say anything at first because it was painless and when he did start feeling uneasy he put it down to the tough training regime that goes with being an elite athlete.
But the pain continued to grow. Dylan visited his GP who told him that it was just a cyst and that people live with cysts everyday, so Dylan finished the Premier League season on the bench against Sunderland and left the country five days later to join his Aussie teammates.
It was in June 2011, while representing Australia at the Under-17 World Cup that a random drugs test raised concerns and shortly afterwards a doctor confirmed the worst.
Three months after his 17thbirthday Dylan was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Inevitably life was about to change, but much less than anyone around him could ever believe.
Dylan’s spirit would never be broken.
He fought extremely hard to maintain his fitness and strength while going through chemotherapy and amazed everyone around him with his determination and humour.
He once described himself as the “happiest kid with cancer”, after all, he was still doing what he loved (playing football) surrounded by family and group of friends he adored.
But this nasty gatecrasher would not go away.
Every time Dylan had treatment, the tumour would return stronger than before.
In January 2012, Dylan had surgery to remove his lymph nodes, but by June the cancer was back, once again.
The song lyric “Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon” meant the world to Dylan.
Despite more than a year of chemotherapy at this point, Dylan refused to let cancer rule.
He trained despite the pain, he scored despite the pain, he continued to impress, despite the pain.
And on September 25, 2012, Dylan made his senior debut for West Ham United FC in the Capital One Cup, despite the pain.
On that day a dream came true.
In March 2013, Dylan was preparing for the Under-20 World Cup but the cancer had resurfaced, this time in his liver, he had surgery to resect his liver and he was told he had to rest for 3 months.
During this “rest period” Dylan went into West Ham United’s training ground every day and continued mild exercise until he was allowed back into more strenuous training.
By this time his battle with cancer had lasted two years, in total he had endured months of torturous treatment, but he was still yearning to play football, still putting in the hard yards, still desperate to score goals.
His will to succeed coupled with his loving, cheerful nature are what defined Dylan, not a disease called cancer.
It is this strength and resilience that continues to inspire new generations of young men and women today.
Dylan’s final chapter began in November 2013.
The cancer had returned but despite it all he was determined to go through yet more chemotherapy so he would have a chance of being fit for the Under-22 World Cup tournament in Oman in January 2014.
Once again Dylan succeeded, he played for his country one last time.
With the tournament over Dylan discovered that this particular journey had come to end, the cancer had continued to take hold and with that the chances of finding a successful treatment had disappeared.
But Dylan’s exciting journey now continues elsewhere, in a place where love conquers all and the gatecrasher can never reach him.
On April 18th, 2014, Dylan passed away in the company of his loving family.
Every year around 2,200 men and boys in the UK are diagnosed with testicular cancer.To find out more about DT38 Foundation, their awareness work and how to check for signs of testicular disease visit dt38.co.uk