Elburn cancer survivor's dirt biking crash led to diagnosis, saved life

Elburn, IL (WLS) -- To many, dirt bike racing can be considered a dangerous sport.

"Broke my neck, dislocated my shoulder. Both knees have been operated on, shoulders been operated on," dirt bike rider Dave Thomas said.

Thomas has been riding dirt bikes on his backyard track since he was 15 years old. And after 45 years, nothing's changed.

"When you're racing it's just a different feeling," Thomas said. "It sounds funny but to be behind one of your buddies and the dirt from his tires hitting you and it hurts, but in the moment, it's nothing like it."

But after a crash during a competition in 2016, Thomas' life changed. He thought he'd just cracked a couple of ribs from a fall, but it turned out to be something bigger.

"I had collapsed my lung and they told me I broke my wrist. They were doing blood work, obviously, and they told me I had prostate cancer... stage four. So I guess that accident was a good thing," Thomas said.

That's when he and his family turned to the Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center for help.

"We were worried about him," said Dr. Christopher George, Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center oncologist. "There were some features of the disease that made us think that we needed to be extra aggressive in his treatment."

Doctors used three different kinds of treatment for Thomas: surgery, radiation and hormone therapy. But the intensity of it didn't stop Thomas - he kept competing.

"Won the plus 60 for Illinois, the state championship, I won everything, I won every championship they had for plus 60," Thomas said.

"For me as a doctor to see a guy who's able to continue living his life during treatment is fantastic," Dr. George said. "We have a cliché where we say 'you shouldn't tailor your life to the cancer treatment, we should tailor the cancer treatment to your life' and he's a great example of that."

Now almost three years later, Thomas is cancer-free and he has his medical team to thank for that. So he honors them every time he rides, with Northwestern Medicine decals sported on the sides of his bike.

"I'm alive because of them," Thomas said.
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