How I plan to kick cancer’s butt. Let the battle begin.

May 28, 2013

The first struggle will be with that stupid hospital gown.

Try as I might, I won’t be able to fasten it properly.

I’ll be the one with the rear section flapping merrily in the breeze. My pimply white bum on show for all to see.

In the scheme of things, it’s not my greatest problem. I have prostate cancer. And the time has almost arrived to go under the knife.

Some of you already know. Others may be surprised. And a few will be wondering why I’m telling you about it.

I’ve pondered that too. Keep it a secret, or put it out there?

If there’s one thing I’ve discovered since embarking on these scribblings, it’s that sharing usually helps. So be it. I’m enlisting you all to be part of the fight.

They found the first tumour late last year, during a routine procedure. A tiny one. Time was on my side.

Back then, it didn’t quite sink in. This was a disease for old blokes.

Everyone had an opinion. Get it out tomorrow. Do nothing. Wait a few years.

Those who mean the most to me became upset. A few offered comfort, by explaining that if you had to get any form of cancer, this was the one. They meant well. And it’s probably true. But somehow, when you have the tumour, it doesn’t help.

My surgeon is the most amazing of men. A gem. So when he decided on one more scan, just to make sure, I had no hesitation.

In the meantime, I got on with things. Did my best to push those dark, nasty thoughts aside. Did I tell you this was a disease for old blokes?

The second lot of results came back. I knew straight away, things were crook. Doc wasn’t smiling. I’m guessing he’s no poker player.

They’d found a second, more sinister blob. Hiding underneath. It’s unusual, apparently. He’d consulted other specialists that morning. All agreed this changed our game plan. The prostate needed to come out. Sooner rather than later.

For the first time, I actually felt like a cancer patient. No more waiting. At no stage had I entertained the idea that this thing might spread. Dark, nasty thoughts.

That’s when the fight began in earnest. I decided I needed to approach it as a battle. Physically and mentally, I had to prepare.

So began the fitness regime. Early morning walks. Gym work. I’m almost back to my playing weight. How ironic, that I feel healthier right now than I have in years.

I have loving, caring people around me. True friends. We’re a giant pool of positive. They’re refusing to accept anything but a successful outcome.

I’m off the grog. I’ll miss Stradbroke Day for the first time in years. And those wonderful racing lunches sprinkled around it. I’m sure the boys will avoid the temptation of ringing to tell me how much fun they’re having. For the first ten minutes, maybe.

If I get down, I think of friends who have done it much tougher. Just last week, a wonderful family I know lost a mother, and a wife. Another great man, who happens to be the father of a mate, is battling cancer for the second time. They’re operating on him the same day as me. It makes me realise I have nothing to complain about.

Alone, at night, I get scared. I wait for those positive forces to kick in. Mostly, they do. No time for negatives.

I hate this disease with every fibre of my being. I want it out. I refuse to accept that it will get the better of me.

There’s so much to do. The girls need me harping about the need to clean their bathroom. I must take more photos of them. And of the sunrise.

I have to pick a Melbourne Cup trifecta. I’m booked for a night picnic by the river. I’ve promised to visit the farm. So I can see someone’s special place. Holding hands.

I want you to get tested. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this. I want my mates to hear the snap of rubber gloves behind them. You simply can’t put it off.

Forgive me if you don’t see anything on this page for a week or so. I’ll be busy, trying to sort out that bloody hospital gown.

Prostate cancer isn’t just a disease for old blokes. It can strike any of us. My plan is to be talking about it as an old bloke. Wish me luck.

Farewell Pintuck. Thanks for the memories. If only you had been faster.

May 25, 2013

I fell in love the first time I saw him.

He was a giant of a two-year old. Massive. With the biggest arse I’d seen.

I have a yellowed clipping, where Bart Cummings explained how he always looked for a big bum in young horses. Among other things. This bloke qualified, and then some.

The young man at the stud farm walked him around the yard, and he looked majestic. With a stride I’d only read about in books. Those hooves ate up the ground. I was sold.

We bought our share, with high hopes. So well-bred. Big fans of the Pins bloodline. No-one was aiming too high. The Cox Plate would do just fine.

Right about then, the problems started. I still have the e-mail somewhere, explaining how the big horse was struck down with colic. It was serious. They had to operate.

The cost didn’t concern us. As high as it was. I started reading about the careers of horses after colic surgery. The honour board was a tiny one.

It set us back months. Finally, he made it into Rob Heathcote’s yard. Rob, too, had liked him from day one. He remained confident.

Not long after getting into work, he went shin sore. So bloody big. In fact, by then he was starting to resemble a chestnut Clydesdale. The decision was made to lop off his prized bits. If he was unhappy about that, he didn’t tell us.

Another delay. Patience was our buzzword. He would come good. Breeding would shine through.

Back he came. The word from the training track was encouraging. Then he went shin sore. Again. Off to the paddock once more.

Patience. Through gritted teeth. And a fistful of dollars. But we still had hope.

After an eternity, he hit the track again. It seemed that he’d shaken off the bad luck. Track riders gave him the thumbs up.

We ignored his first few runs. Wet tracks were destroying us. He couldn’t get out of a trot whenever a shower was turned on opposite the course.

Finally, on a dry track at Doomben, our dreams came true. The gold blinkers hit the front. Challengers came, and he fought them off. There was a nose in it, but he won. What a moment.

I told you about it at the time. Even now, the thought of that victory gives me a thrill. But with success, came expectation.

Wet tracks again spoiled things. Looking back, the excuses were mounting. He was going backwards.

His last start was awful. We knew that was it. Our lovely horse was, in fact, slow. And he wasn’t going to get any faster.

The end of our adventure came quickly. He was sent to a country trainer. Maybe he’d pick up a local race down there.

Or maybe not. Another e-mail. This time, to advise that he’d bled. For his safety, and everyone elses, he would need to be retired.

Thanks for the memories Pintuck. A giant horse, with a lovely nature. And one win.

He’s off to a show jumping career now. I’m tipping he’ll represent Australia in the Olympics. After all, a beautiful arse like that must be good for something.

It’s official. Dads with obese thumbs can’t type on i-phomes.

May 14, 2013

Daughter Two was giving me the look.

The one that tells me I’m not performing at the level she expects.

As usual, it was followed by the giggle. When she stopped laughing, she set me straight. Again.

“Dad, why are your thumbs so fat? You’re making mistakes on every word.”

She was watching me trying to send messages on my new phone. And she was right. It wasn’t pretty.

Picture a baby hippo, penning an important note on the latest communication device. Letters being splayed left, right and sideways.

Incredibly, the phone tries to help. This amazing function called auto-correct. The tiny people inside pick up my mistakes before I’ve finished them, and suggest the correct word.

There’s only one problem. These mini-wordsmiths sometimes come up with words I don’t want. And when I’m messaging without my glasses on, which is often, I don’t always realise this.

There have been several near misses. No law suits just yet. It’s only a matter of time.

What my bulky digits do, is make the process of messaging longer than it needs to be. I am constantly fixing, and erasing.

I can’t walk and thumb-type. The girls find this a major embarrassment. If we’re at the shops, they’ll keep walking, pretending they don’t know me, when I stop mid-stride to make a reply.

It wasn’t always this difficult. I used a typewriter once. In the days of silent movies. Those two fingers served me well, as they do all these years later on the computer keyboard.

Before phones went mobile, I carried a pager. We all did. Mine worked perfectly across vast areas. Except inside the local RSL club. Try as they might, they couldn’t contact me in there. Must have been something in the walls.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for progress. The features on this new phone are mind-blowing. I’ve mentioned them on these pages before.

So if this amazing piece of technology can let me take video, and check the weather in Mt Isa, and play my favourite John Cash songs, why can’t it accommodate my fat thumbs?

There’s a challenge for you tech-whizzes out there. Design something for my kind. For your trouble, we’ll send you nice clean messages. Every time. I pronise.

The beauty of loud voices in the racing game. At least we’re never boring.

May 11, 2013

Imagine being part of an industry that puts people to sleep. Where participants are comfortable in beige. No thanks.

We racing folk, we’re nothing if not vibrant. Everyone has a voice. Usually raised.

It seems everyone has been yelling this week. Major spats in two states.

The Singo and Gai show will be a mini-series one day. Scribes better than me have documented every juicy bit. You don’t need that again today.

What I will say, is that there was passion at every turn. It’s what racing does to us.

Whether it’s at the bar, or in front of the Stewards, nothing is held back. No punches pulled.

In Brisbane, it was Rob Heathcote v Larry Cassidy. My mate the trainer, against the Group One jockey.

I’m still scratching my head over that one. We all know they don’t like each other. So what? Could it not have been sorted out before an official inquiry?

The fact that Brisbane’s leading trainer was fined for speaking his mind on a private blog, puzzles me. If things were that bad, take it to court. If not, move on.

No-one does more to promote the sport in Queensland. He doesn’t mind letting people know what he’s thinking. There should be more of it. It’s easy to stay out of strife, if you don’t open your mouth.

The beauty of these spats, is that we all get over it. Racing types are great at moving on. With or without grudges. We have to. There’s a race about to start any minute.

Listen to the old blokes this arvo at your local. Best of mates, will go toe to toe over the merits of the ride on the topweight.

No thoughts for feelings. Because we have hides like rhinos. Throw your best insult. Then pass the peanuts.

In our game, strong opinions aren’t confined to millionaires. The strength of your argument isn’t measured by the thickness of your wallet.

Don’t get too concerned the next time you hear about a racing blow up. As long as it’s not about cheats ripping us off, then laugh if off. Worse things happen at sea.

And one more thing. If you’re off to the track today, don’t wear beige. It’s just not our colour.

Getting ready to remember my wonderful Mum. Just don’t trust her with the seafood.

May 7, 2013

For a tiny woman, Mum sure packed a punch.

Whether you were a school administrator, a local politician or a teenage son, it was wise not to tangle with her.

She was always polite, of course. But beware the terrier, if she thought the wrong thing was being done.

Mum had our primary school hall built. She didn’t think it was acceptable that we had nowhere to hold proper assemblies, or musicals. So she set about changing things.

My mother was a tireless letter writer. She penned notes to scores of people over that bloody hall. If they didn’t respond, they’d get another.

Mum took to the airwaves. She decided talkback was a valuable tool, to push her barrow. She painted a sorry picture of our rundown school. Politicians who had been sitting on their hands, were starting to look bad.

Finally, they relented. We would get our hall. More than anything, I think, to shut Mum up. She was delighted.

When I got to high school, she decided it needed a new hall too. Seriously. The letters started again. This project proved easier. The powers-that-be didn’t have the energy to fight her.

After Dad died, we used to have terrible fights. I was heading off the rails. She was trying to be mother and father, and it wasn’t working.

I eventually moved out, at 19. I know that hurt her deeply. She didn’t say a thing. Just went about supporting me any way she could. From pots and pans to cleaning cloths. Not that any of them were used in those early years.

When we were no longer living under the same roof, the fights stopped. I finally appreciated the incredible struggle she’d had, to keep my brother and I safe and well. She finally understood the difficulties a teenager had, after losing his much-loved Dad.

When I started work, she was so incredibly proud. I was employed by the same radio station she featured on, a few years earlier. She continued to call them, whenever something took her fancy. Always with a reminder about who her son was.

I moved interstate eventually, into a different part of the media. She demanded I send home tapes of stories I’d done. I’m pretty sure they were shown at morning teas, with her friends. Poor ladies.

Mum would visit whenever she could. We were lucky enough to live in some of Queensland’s most amazing parts. She was constantly amazed at the beauty of those places.

Towards the end of her life, she struggled. Her sight was all but gone. So cruel. This woman who loved her crossword puzzles, now had to use books with only the largest print. And even then, she could barely make out details.

On one of her final visits, I took her to a seafood shop, to get lunch. I asked if she wanted prawns. Yes, she said, that would be lovely. How about those ones there in the window? They look big and juicy.

They were indeed. Sadly, she was pointing at the lobsters. We had a laugh about that. She kept her sense of humour till the end.

In her final hours in hospital, I held Mum’s tiny, frail hand. She told me that the giant Indian was calling her. I actually looked about the hospital room that night, so sure was she that the big guy was there with us. I couldn’t see him. But she could. I still picture what he must have looked like.

She gave me so many valuable lessons. Near the top of her list, was to fight for what you believe in. And that if something will make your heart happy, then it’s worth chasing. Nothing is more important.

I miss Mum every day, but especially on Mother’s Day. Give yours a hug for me on the weekend. And if you’re having seafood for lunch this Sunday, make sure you check those prawns.