WHEN Geoff Thomas retired from professional football in January 2002, he had a clear plan for the next chapter of his life.
Aiming not to be dependent on football for a continued livelihood he planned to open a chain of male fashion shops.
But Palace's 1990 FA Cup Final captain was dealt a very different hand when he found a lump the size of a golf ball on the bottom of his rib cage.
Geoff, now 48, said: "I'd started feeling more tired and I was getting the night sweats. I'd been out of full-time training for six months so I put it down to that and getting older.
"Then I found this lump and took it to the doctor. It turned out to be an enlarged spleen. The GP has since told me he knew it was leukaemia as soon as he saw the lump.
"He did some tests and I thought I was getting them back in a few weeks but I got a call five or six hours later asking me to come in. I pretty much got him to tell me what it was over the phone."
Geoff was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia and told that without a stem cell transplant, he was likely to live for three years at most.
The former England midfielder, who was capped nine times, said: "It was obviously awful. One day I thought was healthy; the next I was being treated for leukaemia.
"Over the next few weeks I was told all sorts of things you never want to hear."
He immediately underwent a process called leukopheresis and also chemotherapy to reduce his white blood cell count.
The chances of finding a good enough match to undergo a stem cell transplant were also deemed low. Geoff said: "I asked my doctor Charlie Craddock to be honest with me and he said the chances were slim.
"My sister is a nurse and started taking tests immediately after I was diagnosed. Luckily she turned out to be about as good a match as you could hope for.
"She played a big part in saving my life but the medical professionals were brilliant."
The transplant, in January 2004, left Geoff's immune system at its weakest possible level and he spent five weeks in isolation.
He was not back to normal for another six months but received the good news that he was in remission in January 2005.
After beating leukaemia, Geoff is now taking the fight to blood cancer as a campaigner and fundraiser, having launched a foundation in his name.
Geoff said: "When I finished playing football, I was going to start a business, but then I was diagnosed and I knew quite soon after what I had to do.
"It's made my life a whole lot clearer."
A MILLION POUND RAISED
THE Geoff Thomas Foundation has raised more than £1million for leukaemia and lymphoma research since 2005. Just six months after completing his treatment for leukaemia, Geoff rode the Tour De France route and raised £179,000. He completed it again in 2007 accompanied by other cancer survivors and continues to take on regular cycling challenges. He cycled with a group to the Everest Base Camp and recently rode from London to Paris with Ian Wright, John Salako and former Watford manager Adrian Boothroyd. He also started the Give Blood Cancer The Red Card campaign, which aims to get football clubs involved in the fight. The primary aim of Geoff's fundraising and campaigning is to provide better access to life-saving treatments through clinical trials.
STARS MAKE A SPLASH
GEOFF was joined by another Crystal Palace legend as he earned his water wings at a charity swimming gala. John Salako was at Trinity School last Sunday (July 7) for the celebrity swimming gala organised by QVC presenter Julia Roberts. The gala, which also featured Paralympic athletes James Crisp and Anne Wafula Strike, was raising money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and The British Polio Fellowship. Swimming commentator Bob Ballard compered the event, which saw shopping channel star presenter Julia, who is still receiving treatment for leukaemia and is a polio survivor, complete 100 lengths of the pool. Geoff also made a splash, although he admitted to not being as comfortable as on the football field or even a bike. He said: "It was a great laugh actually. I'm not the best swimmer but hopefully we raised a good amount. "I was visiting a friend in hospital when I met Julia a few months back now. Our paths had crossed before when I was at Palace and she was presenting on local TV. "I was shocked to find out she was a patient and since then we have been in constant contact. I'm delighted to help out with her event and to raise money to stop people dying from blood cancer."