Tommy Thompson was not going to let a fight with cancer come between him and his passion.
The 67-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of prostate cancer in January 2007. He underwent 42 consecutive sessions of radiation treatment and is back doing what he loves: racing vintage cars.
"You think you're bulletproof and all of a sudden they announce that you have cancer and if you don't do the right things you probably got about 2 years to live," Thompson said. "When I got diagnosed it jerked the rug right out from under me. I just made my mind up I wasn't going to let it beat me and I was going to do everything I could do. Fortunately it worked out."
Thompson started racing at the age of 50 and now owns 12 cars and several motorcycles. It started when his son Ross graduated from Corona del Sol High School. Thompson took Ross and his other son and enrolled all of them in a Bondurant Racing course.
"None of us had been in a race car and the instructor told us we were naturally good," he said.
It remained to be seen just how good they would be.
Ross became an instructor at Bondurant and worked there for several years before turning professional. He has raced professionally for 12 years and competed in such events as NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series.
The older Thompson said the favorite race of his own career was at the 2009 Monterey Historic Automobile Races. He placed second in his group, while driving his 1964 Chevrolet Corvette.
His recent success has been made possible by his desire to overcome his bout with cancer.
"During the treatments, I continued to work out and I began to race immediately when I was done," he said. "I only missed four or five months."
Thompson will join the like of Dario Franchitti, Danica Patrick, and other professional racers at the forth annual Wheels of Wellness event to benefit The Wellness Community, an organization dedicated to helping people and their families who have been affected by cancer.
Executive Director Paula Hardison of The Wellness Community described her organization as "the gold standard for psychosocial support," which offers support programs for cancer patients and survivors and their family and friends.
"It impacts everyone in your life," Hardison said. "Cancer is life and death. (The Wellness Community) is about hope and finding resilience through the resources we offer."
The nonprofit organization offers educational sessions with cancer specialists, specific emotional support for different age groups and nutritional classes.
"We provide education so the cancer survivor can find tools that compliment traditional medical care," Hardison said. "Cancer is an obstacle on the road of life and we help you navigate the journey."
Thompson is a charter member for Wheels of Wellness and will attend the event on Jan. 16 to celebrate his third year being cancer free.
"Once you have cancer, its hard to accept being told you are cancer-free because you're always thinking there could be something in there," he said. "But I live each day like it is my last."
To find out more about Wheels of Wellness or to purchase tickets for the event, visit the website, www.WheelsofWellness.org, or call (602) 712-1006.