The story behind a rising Supercars star's cancer fight
From a painful run-in with a crutch belt in Newcastle to facing three rounds of chemotherapy, it's been an intense couple of months for Super2 star Thomas Randle as he battles testicular cancer.
Towards the end of last season Randle was in the thick of the Supercars silly season.
He was a Super2 race winner, racked up his first main game podium alongside Lee Holdsworth at Sandown, and was considered a genuine threat for Holdsworth's Tickford seat for the 2020 season.
To ultimately miss out was, at the time, disappointing. Now, he describes it as a "blessing in disguise".
While putting together a new Super2 programme for 2020 to mount another promotion campaign, Randle found out he has a much more important battle to face this year.
A battle with testicular cancer.
Randle first went public with his cancer fight on January 16. Since then things have changed.
Initially there was a lot of confidence that a bout of surgery would stop the cancer in its tracks, and that Randle would be on the grid for the Super2 opener in Adelaide.
Troubling numbers from tumour markers subsequently sent all that out the window.
The cancer proved to be more advanced than first thought. Not untreatable – Randle's chances of survival are north of 95 per cent – but advanced enough to require proper chemotherapy.
After a nervous wait he's now been cleared to postpone the start of the chemo until after Adelaide, which means he'll be there in his MW Motorsport Nissan after all.
From there it will be a race against time to be fit for Round 2 in Tasmania.
Randle talked Motorsport.com through the ups and downs of his brief-but-intense cancer journey so far.
This really did come as shock news. One minute you're the Super2 title favourite, the next you're fighting testicular cancer. How did we end up here?
Right, here it is from the start.
I actually noticed it over the Newcastle weekend at the end of last year. Sometimes the belts can get caught in sensitive areas, and it can be quite excruciating. That happened in one of the sessions, nothing out of the ordinary.
A couple of days afterwards it was still quite sensitive, like when you've been kicked in the balls and you feel sick in your stomach. I thought 'that's odd', but I figured it was where I got caught in the belts.
On the sixth of January I rang up my GP. I'd checked myself in the shower and I thought 'no this isn't right, it's been four or five weeks now and this isn't changing'. I knew I needed to get it sussed out.
The GP had a bit of a look and referred me to get an ultrasound. After that they said they thought it was a cancerous tumours, so it was off for a CT scan, blood tests and then to see a Urologist, who was also the surgeon.
I saw him on the 13th and I was booked in for surgery on the 15th. That's when the soccer ball was removed.
We all thought it was okay, that it'd been caught really early. The CT scan was normal and the tumour wasn't that big. It was about three centimetres, which is big enough, but for some people it's the size of an orange or a tennis ball.
The urologist was certain that it'd been caught early, but the tumour needed a histology and I needed some blood tests for the tumour markers. In a normal human body that doesn't have cancer, they should read zero. If they're not zero, then you've got cancer.
I got the tumour markers done before the operation and two weeks after I got the histology report saying it was more advanced than first thought. I got the blood results back and the levels had increased a fair bit.
They're still on the lower end. The higher the number, the more cancer cells. The numbers are in the hundreds. If you've got it really bad it can be in the 10,000s. That's Lance Armstrong-spec.
That was last Friday, that's when I found out that I need chemo.
I saw the oncologist on Monday and told him about my racing. Not that racing is his priority, but he was good about it. He's one of the best in the country for this type of cancer. I went to see [Supercars doctor] Carl Le last week, I spent about four hours with him. He knew the oncologist and he assured us that type of cancer is highly curable.
Photo by: Thomas Randle
So the long-term prognosis is good?
If you're a male and you get cancer, this is the type to get. I've got the non-seminoma, which is a germ cell tumour. It's more aggressive, and unfortunately it requires more aggressive chemo, but it the cancer is highly sensitive to the chemo.
I've been told that I'm in the good risk zone. I've only got to do the normal required chemo, which is three cycles.
So the five-year prognosis of survival is over 95 per cent. I've got age and fitness on my side.
The thing about the word cancer is that you assume the worst. That's what I did, I was head in hands asking how long I had left to live.
Now I know more about what I'm facing, I feel like I'm one of the lucky ones. And I didn't pick it up super early, but I didn't pick it up too late. Even if I did, the oncologist said even at Stage 4 it's still highly treatable.
But you've been cleared to race in Adelaide before you start the chemo...
The concern was if we left it until after Adelaide I might have to do more chemo and it might take the risk factor up. So I had another set of blood tests done at the start of this week to see how fast the levels are rising.
If they were rising at an alarming rate, I'd need to start this week. So the whole week I've been wondering if I'd be able to race. I don't want to see someone else win when I know I can win.
Anyway, the oncologist said one level had gone down – which he can't explain – and the other had risen but not by much. He said waiting until after Adelaide won't change the treatment plan or the risk of its spreading to the point of requiring more surgery.
He wants me to get another blood test done next week, but he's pretty comfortable.
Beyond that, the way the treatment plan works is that it's five days on, and it's three to four hours of chemo per day.
At the moment we're looking at starting on the Tuesday after Adelaide, so it will be Tuesday to Saturday. Then there's two weeks rest, five days on, two weeks rest – and at the end of that second cycle is Tasmania.
I could be feeling sick as a dog, I might be okay. Jason Richards was racing on chemo. I'm not comparing myself to what he went though. It's the same word, cancer, but it's a different story.
Lee Holdsworth, Thomas Randle , Tickford Racing Ford
Photo by: Dirk Klynsmith / Motorsport Images
If you're fit for Tasmania, do you still feel you can go about business as usual this season and challenge for the Super2 title?
There's a big part of my brain that says 'why not?' But there's also a fear of the unknown. How much is this going to stuff me around?
I really don't know.
It's hard for [team boss] Matt White too, because he's been sitting there not knowing if he had a driver for Adelaide, and it's the same for Tasmania.
But it's a big motivator to think about the amount of people still going to work when they're on chemo. I've got to be as fit as I can leading into the treatment and, I know it sounds like a cliche, but I've got to be mentally positive as well. It makes a big difference.
So we'll see. I'd love to give you an answer. I'd love to say 'yeah I'll be on the grid'. But I can't right now. It'd be a bloody cool story, right? Imagine if I could still win the championship? That'd be incredible anyway, but in these circumstances it'd be bloody cool.
The thought of being on that grid in Tasmania might be a nice focus through the chemo process, too.
Exactly. It gives me something to work towards. If I'd had to start chemo before Adelaide then I wouldn't be racing, and that brings all sorts of negative thoughts.
The oncologist isn't a big fan of me racing on chemo, but at the end of the day only I really know how I feel. It won't affect the treatment, I might just feel more crap.
Luckily the Super2 workload is more manageable than main game.
Yes. As frustrated as I was not to get a main game seat for this year, in hindsight it's a good thing. It just wouldn't have worked.
So it's a blessing in disguise. It's still the goal, though. This is just a little hurdle that I'll get over and then I'll be back in the game. Or maybe I can stay in the game.
It could be so much worse. There are people around the world that are suffering much more than I am.
Super2 race start
Photo by: Tickford
Supercars Media to produce TCR Oz, S5000 TV
Newgarden impressed by McLaughlin, wants to try Supercars
The story behind a rising Supercars star's cancer fight
- Formula 1
11 Jun - 14 JunTickets
25 Jun - 28 JunTickets
2 Jul - 5 JulTickets
16 Jul - 19 JulTickets
30 Jul - 2 AugTickets
27 Aug - 30 AugTickets