Former Sheffield Wednesday and Doncaster player Tommy Spurr opens up about son's cancer
In a career spanning 15 years, Tommy Spurr played more than 360 times for Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster Rovers, Blackburn Rovers, Preston and Fleetwood. But, as Chris Dawkes reports, the Leeds-born father is now facing his toughest challenge.
Tommy and Chloe Spurr speak to Chris Dawkes
If it were not for his shaven head and the tube in his nose, Rio Spurr would appear just like any other three-year-old.
Watching him singing and dancing around his family home in Blackburn, it is easy to forget that this was a little boy who, in the last six months, has endured ten consecutive days of radiotherapy and another 45 days of chemotherapy. He faces further treatment next year.
Rio has Wilms tumour, a rare form of kidney cancer. Around 80 children in the UK are diagnosed every year.
Typically the condition is treatable, but when Rio had surgery to remove the tumour, along with his right kidney, his family were told he was among the 5-8% of children classed as high-risk.
It makes the illness harder to treat, resistant to chemotherapy and more likely to return.
"It's been our worst nightmare." says dad Tommy, a former footballer who had stints with Sheffield Wednesday and Doncaster Rovers.
"Any parent wouldn't wish it on their worst enemy, because your kids are your world.
"The kids are our world and to have that uncertainty – it's been devastating for us. Every day is a battle to keep it together but we have to."
As Tommy and his wife Chloe sit on their sofa and open their heart to me, Rio is desperate to show off his toys – and his impressive singing voice.
We break off the interview so that he can give us a rendition of his favourite song – Elton John's I'm Still Standing. It's a particularly fitting choice for a little boy who is showing such resilience.
He was diagnosed with Wilms after complaining of stomach ache and vomiting. The treatment he has had since then has been intensive, but his parents say he has handled it with incredible stoicism.
"He never complains," Chloe says. "He seems to take most of it in his stride. He has been through far too much already and a lot more to come. He doesn't ever complain about what he has to go through."
As we talk, she turns to Rio. "You're amazing aren't you," she tells him.
"He inspires us every day," Tommy says.
Rio appears oblivious to their anguish – he's itching to get back to his toy keyboard and put his favourite songs back on the TV. He is a ray of light in a dark conversation.
Nevertheless, his illness has taken over their lives. Chloe has given up work and Tommy, who was training to become a teacher, put that ambition on hold.
With the prospect of NHS treatment options running out, they are now fundraising for possible alternative treatments and clinical trials abroad.
"It has become like a full-time job," says Chloe. "It has given us something really positive to focus on and keep us going, because ultimately the outcome of this is entirely out of hour hands. It's out of anybody's hands, but this way we feel like we are doing something positive to help Rio."
Chloe and Tommy tell me it's fortunate that our interview is taking place while Rio's little brother Rudi, two, is at nursery. He's the wild one, they say – "a terror" as Rio puts it.
The whole family will be at Doncaster Rovers' Eco-Power stadium on Sunday afternoon for a charity football match.
A number of Tommy's former teammates, including Doncaster legend James Coppinger, Chris Brown and Rob Jones, will take on a team of celebrities including Eastenders actor Dean Gaffney, DJ Tom Zanetti and Youtuber Sharkey.
"It's going to be a good day." says Tommy. "I think people will enjoy seeing the actors and singers out of their comfort zone, but they'll probably take it more serious than we will, so we might have to be on our toes a little bit."
Of their fundraising efforts, Tommy says: "As his mum and dad we wouldn't forgive ourselves if we didn't put ourselves in a position where we could give him a chance because he's our everything."
And with that it's back to Elton. Little Rio is still standing, singing and loving life.
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