20/05/2024

Cancer survivor makes inspiring return to rugby league. (Image: South Sydney Rabbitohs, Graphic Design by Madeline Irwin)

Twenty-one-year-old South Sydney Rabbitohs back-rower Taine Woodford has had significant time spent away from his favourite sport, not due to an injury or suspension, but cancer.

Taine Woodford spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about his journey to overcoming cancer and how he is resuming his rugby league career.

On an ordinary Saturday on October the eight in 2022, Woodford started having shortness of breath and an excessive heart rate. He was ‘not feeling the best’ after shoulder surgery and that’s where it began.

“Two weeks prior, I had surgery on my shoulder after the season had finished,” Woodford told The Inner Sanctum.

“I wasn’t feeling my best for a week or so, even the back half of the season, I actually wasn’t feeling 100%, especially with my breathing. The week before [I was diagnosed] I was having hot and cold flushes, just was feeling crook.”

Woodford was understandably saddened when he found out after going to the emergency room that he had seminoma mediastinal cancer. His situation was very unique, finding a 12cm tumour positioned between his lungs and heart.

He lost his purpose, his routine and his regular commitments outside of the the sport as a result and his life changed in an instant.

“It was tough, with uni, the internship [at FOX Sports]. I had to start focusing on one thing at a time,” he said.

All-time Rugby League legend Andrew Johns was able to get hold of Woodford to check up on him and share his support in his recovery. He recalled this memory along with the fact that he thought it was a prank pulled by his friends.

“[The call] was after my third treatment, and he rang up and said, hey it’s Andrew…Andrew Johns and I was like, are you sure?,” Woodford said with laughter.

Throughout his treatment, his passion for the sport spread around and with the help of the rugby league community, the support became the reminder of the reassurance he was seeking.

“If I didn’t have the rugby league community behind me when I was in and out of the hospital, I wouldn’t have gone through it,” Woodford said with gratitude. 

Woodford spoke about the many people he owed thanks to after his ordeal; his family and girlfriend, teammates and coaches, and also anyone who reached out to see if they could do anything for him.

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By February this year, Woodford had finished the four scheduled rounds of chemotherapy, he explained that it was tough and the treatment and its effects ‘played on his mind’.

Taine went for further tests at this time and his blood returned as normal, the tests still indicated that there was something present where the tumour was positioned. It is believed to be leftover scar tissue, due to the initial size of the tumour.

Since then, Woodford was placed on a ‘watch and act’ treatment program that continues to monitor everything for the next three months. 

He has also successfully returned to playing in the Jersey Flegg competition for the Rabbitohs, coming off the bench since his return.

“I eased into training [before I played] thanks to the Rabbitohs staff, the physios and coaches. It was tough feeling vulnerable [when it came to the] physicality [of the game].”

After all the nagging the doctors about when he could finally play, Woodford is now in a peaceful state of mind after returning to the field and having a stronger bond with his family and friends.

“I’m grateful to have those [family and friends] around me and I realised that more, to be thankful,” Woodford reflected. 

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