Image by www.michelepocknee.com
I do feel very privileged for all of the experiences in my 34 years on earth; the vast majority of which have been positive but there have been a number of challenges as well. It is the challenges that define us, and give us our greatest lessons. The game of basketball has given me a great deal, having accepted a scholarship to attend university in the United States, representing Australia at a World Junior Championship, travelling the world and playing professionally for a number of years. I worked incredibly hard for each of those opportunities and feel proud of what I achieved, although I do believe I failed to reach my full potential in the game which is somewhat difficult to accept. I do feel that I had a different calling in life and retrospectively, I can see how each of the events I experienced and decisions I made pushed me into the place I am now.
The most important job I have in this world is being a Dad to my kids. Beyond that though, I am a financial adviser and a cancer survivor; and it is in those two areas where I feel I am able to have the biggest impact in helping people the most. Having completed a business degree in the USA and then the finance qualifications whilst playing basketball in Australia, in 2009 I stopped playing basketball professionally and began working in the finance industry. I was blessed to find employment with a business in Geelong where I found a beautiful man who became a professional mentor, and now also a wonderful friend. He has taught me a tremendous amount about life in general, but specifically to our work as financial advisers, he showed me how significant a role you can play in someone’s life when you have passion for what you do. Peter Burke has a beautiful style of giving advice that I emulate in my business. Peter showed me that being a good adviser, and also as a general life rule, that the key to success is 95% relationships, and 5% technical; although we had better know 100% 0f the 5%. I had always looked after my body; ate fairly well, never smoked or consumed much alcohol, so it was a shock to be diagnosed with testicular cancer on April 30th 2012.
I was told that in most cases the cancer is contained to the testicle, so a surgery to remove the tumour is often all the treatment needed. I had minimal symptoms. I felt completely normal with the exception of my testicle being slightly swollen and hard as a rock. So it was an even greater shock to learn that the cancer had spread through my abdomen, which meant I faced surgery plus 28 chemotherapy sessions across 13 weeks. My youngest daughter had just had her first birthday three weeks before my diagnosis and my eldest turned three in the middle of my treatment; so it was an incredibly challenging time for our family. My Mum took some long service leave and moved into the house to help my wife keep the family functioning as regularly as possible, and between the two of them they did a wonderful job.
I also had an amazing friend in Scott Lloyd who just turned up at the hospital one day, then the next day and almost every single day I was receiving my treatment. He was incredible during that time and I am eternally grateful to him for that support. There were other incredible gestures such as beautiful friends of mine painting my apartment for me (which I had planned but could no longer do) and countless others who offered tremendous support. The cancer experience can be a very lonely path to travel, so I am appreciative of all the support I did receive. It is a nice reminder for all of us to keep our problems and challenges in perspective and to help those going through a difficult time. I felt fortunate to get sick in Australia, where we have access to all the medicine and facilities that we could want and need to give ourselves the best chance at making a full recovery. However, at the time I felt that there was a real gap in the allied health services available; specifically counselling and emotional support for someone being treated for critical illness.
After approaching established cancer charities with the idea to raise funds for the purpose of counselling and being politely rejected due to their singular focus being on research, I co-founded a foundation with an amazing friend of mine raising money for the purpose of delivering a free counseling service to cancer patients and their families. I am incredibly proud of the impact our Still I Rise Foundation has had, and the tangible difference we have made into the lives of close to a thousand people who are working through a difficult battle in their life. Recently, we have had some amazing news that a large organization is implementing our services on a wide scale across a large number of oncology wards nationwide. It feels good to know that other people will have the support they need when they are facing their own cancer battle. Fortunately for me, the treatments worked and I was able to leave hospital a week before my 30th birthday cancer-free. For me, the chemo was not difficult in that I actually loved the feeling I had after each injection because I could feel my body struggling, which told me that the drugs were working and the cancer was being fought.
The biggest challenges I had were post-treatment, when I was living at home, and living back in ‘normality’; whatever that meant. I was used to being fit and healthy but I was anything but that after my treatments. I had lost all muscle mass and all the hair on my body. I felt immensely weak so I decided to get back in the gym and focused on rebuilding my health and strength; which in turn also helped my mind recover. I made some dietary changes, cutting out sugar and dairy. My hairline has never been the same after the chemo, but I am grateful that I have hair again! There is a semi-professional league run by Basketball Australia which sits below the NBL and they made a documentary on my cancer experience. One of the comments that was made, was that nobody would blame me if I “was never seen on a basketball court again.” So I set a goal of playing competitive basketball again which I was able to do in 2013, playing for Brisbane in the SEABL, a league featuring teams such Hobart, Canberra and Geelong. I played well as did our team, and I was able to prove to myself that I was healthy again
Incredibly with only one testicle and even after all that chemotherapy which can often make people sterile, my wife found out she was pregnant with our son, so in December 2015 we welcomed a little miracle man into the world. Three kids means I have got my hands full for a long time, but he is a blessing and in my opinion he represents a lot in the great fight against cancer.
Cancer makes you re-evaluate everything in your life. I have used my own experience to help others feel supported in their cancer journey and so my scars have taught me a lot and my intention is to use the experience to help others where I can. I see how precious every day is and I now understand that whether you get to live a matter of weeks, months or decades, after you have faced off with death, you are far less likely to put up with situations that make you feel unhappy. You know how sacred each day is. I have always been an optimist, but my cancer experience has certainly given me a greater perspective on life that I am grateful for. I believe most people react to significant challenges in one of two ways; you either decide that you want to help as many people as possible who are about to experience the same challenge, or you pretend it never happened. Shortly after my treatment ended I found a quote that reads “You have never lived until you have almost died”. I keep that quote very close to me now, and it reminds me how grateful I am to be alive and how to truly embrace the life I have!