My mate the racecaller. The bravest bloke I know.

August 3, 2013

We hear lots about bravery. Too often when talk turns to highly paid footballers doing what they’re paid to do.

I usually keep such terms for discussions about our troops. Or cops. People putting their lives on the line for the rest of us.

But I’m making an exception today. I want to give you an update on a bloke most of you already regard as an old friend.

Wayne Wilson was the voice of racing up here. For me, and thousands of others.

As I travelled around Queensland over many years, he was the one who told me whether I’d won or lost. Long before I was lucky enough to meet him, he dictated how my weekends would pan out.

It was not long after we got to know each other, that he became crook. You wouldn’t have known at the time. He didn’t miss a beat on the track. Bringing a Class One alive, and nailing another photo finish.

Bloody cancer. For a while, it didn’t look good. But Wayne had other ideas. He fought it, like a tiger. Explored other treatment options. And eventually came good.

When he decided it was time to retire from the caller’s box, he hatched a plan to do other things on course. Interviews and analysis of each race, beamed around the track.

I don’t know if I’ve ever met a person with more passion for the racing industry. Watch him on race day, and he can’t walk two steps without being collared by someone. A trainer, or a punter, or an official. All friends.

It was his young bloke who told me he’d become sick again. We’re workmates, and great mates. I admire how tight father and son are. They laugh, constantly.

But this was no laughing matter. The dreaded disease had come back.

Can you believe, Wayne and I had surgery on the same day? The racecaller and the punter, both under the knife within hours of each other.

Compared to what he’s gone through, my surgery was like having a band-aid removed. It’s fair to say he’s lost count of the bits they’ve taken out and shifted around.

I spoke to him the other day, and he sounded as if nothing had happened. Was more interested in how I was going. And that voice, was the same as I’d heard on my radio a thousand times.

He’s doing well. That positive attitude continues to shine through.

We promised that we’d both get out to the track again soon. A little celebration of what we’ve overcome.

The problem, of course, will be that I won’t get near him. He’ll be swamped by well-wishers. And he’ll talk to every single one of them.

He’ll be tipping me winners for a long time to come. My brave friend, who refuses to give in. Wayne, thanks for being such an inspiration.

A big thanks, to those who helped me kick cancer’s butt.

June 11, 2013

My surgeon, The Genius, said it like we’d won the pub meat raffle.

“The tests are back, and we’re sure we’ve got it all.” His voice was pleased, but measured. The tray of t-bones thanks.

I was in my hospital bed, enjoying the lingering effects of the morphine. Minus a cancerous prostate.

What do you say to someone who may have just saved your life? It is a moment in time. Surely worthy of a man’s greatest speech.

Or not. I came up with two slurred words. “Thanks Doc”.

He didn’t seem to mind. Everything had gone perfectly. Text-book surgery, he called it. Just what a patient wants to hear.

It’s hard to describe the relief. Fears and doubts, extinguished in a single sentence. Light overcomes dark. Success, I have no doubt, from all those positive vibes.

Later, as The Genius was off saving someone else, I reflected on the love that has been directed my way. Strange in a way, that it took cancer to make me fully appreciate that.

In the days before surgery, I received messages from such a varied bunch. Family and friends. Media colleagues from today, and decades ago. Old school buddies. Footy mates. Racing folk. And you, dear readers of this blog.

A few went above and beyond. The precious gift of passing on strength I didn’t possess. Support and reassurance from the heart. It let me enter that operating theatre, as positive as I had been in the months before. I’ll never forget that.

After a few days of being looked after by a wonderful medical team, I left hospital. With a catheter attached to me. This is a device inserted where things should never be inserted.

It must have originated as a military weapon of torture. How it came to be part of the medical world I have no idea. But it did the job. It came out after a week, and I would have gladly given the nurse responsible a new car for her gentle efforts.

Now, I’m resting up. And yes, there are challenges ahead. A blood test in a few weeks will tell me whether the cancer has spread. The Genius is confident that won’t be the case. So am I. In fact, I’ve called the result of this race before they hit the post.

To everyone, thank you. I asked for help to kick cancer’s butt, and you gave it to me.

Others are still in the fight. I think of them daily. Some are not so fortunate. A great mate lost his mum, just days after I was released from hospital. So unfair.

The mission now is to help others. If you’re a bloke over 40, get your prostate checked. Yes, 40. If you’re the partner of a bloke over 40, make him get his prostate checked. And don’t take no for an answer.

Life is a raffle. I’m confident I’ve won this time. If your turn comes, I want the same result for you.

Another battle for one of my favourite little blokes. Why Chris Munce will win this too.

December 8, 2012

At first I thought the saddle was moving itself down the path. Bobbing along, with no-one holding it.

Then I realised Chris Munce was with it. I just couldn’t see him. The pigskin was nearly bigger than the soon-to-be-famous jockey.

It was outside the gates of the Gold Coast Turf club, many years ago. The jockey was walking in, ready to ride more winners. He made the other hoops look like Harlem Globetrotters.

I couldn’t believe his size. I’d never seen a suit so small. But there was something else. Strength. In body and mind.

Munce is again preparing to draw on that power. This time, it’s not to drive one to the line in a head-bobbing photo. He wins most of those, by the way. No, this is a far more important battle.

He told us last week that he has cancer. There was no circus or sideshow for the announcement, as so many sports stars now seem to enjoy. Just the message to his army of supporters, that he was up for the fight.

This awful, filthy disease is in his throat. They found it after a problem surfaced with a tonsil. He’ll undergo radiation therapy, and it will be tough.

There was one thing he wanted to stress, when the story came out. It wasn’t that he was putting his life in God’s hands. He made it clear that he was still available for rides. Old racing fans topped up their glasses on the strength of that.

We’ve seen Chris do some amazing things on the track. My favourite is still his effort on Savabeel in the 2004 Cox Plate. Talking through my hip pocket, of course. It was one of those rides where the jockey made the horse look a little better than it actually was.

He survived prison in Hong Kong. It would have killed the spirit of most other men. Munce didn’t give them that satisfaction. He came back even tougher. And was thankful for every extra day in the saddle.

I’m no doctor, but I reckon it’s that attitude that will get him through this latest challenge. Few jockeys smile as much at the track. Like a bloke who has a genuine love of what he does.

It goes without saying that every sports fan wishes him well. Sometimes, we need to remember that this racing caper, for all the millions that go with it, is still just a bit of fun.

Health and family are the things that really matter. Chris will keep riding winners until his treatment begins. And when it does, he’ll have our prayers with him.

He doesn’t have a choice really. I want more of that saddle walking into the course with no-one holding it. Let’s see the young blokes do that.

We do anything to help our sick kids. And yes, paramedics spoil a birthday party.

June 28, 2011

Nothing is simple. Not in this family. Take a well planned birthday, throw in a medical emergency and a few paramedics, and you have our weekend.

By all accounts, it had been a glorious time. Daughter One, who from here on will be known as The Teenager, had celebrated in fine style. The hotel stay. The Titans debacle. And then family dinner. Wonderful fun.

Daughter Two, who from here on will be known as Daughter Two, had been unusually quiet. No teasing. No stealing of older sister’s goods and appliances.

We knew she had some sort of bug. Off colour, with a cough and a sniffle. At Skilled Park, she didn’t even yell her adoration for Scotty Prince. Unlike The Teenager, The Treasurer, and The Mum-in law.

Come feast time, at a funky Gold Coast Japanese place, she’d had enough. No food. No banter with the cousins. Something was up. Her temperature.

When we arrived back at grandma’s place, our digs for the night, she’d gone downhill. We gave her medicine and a sponge down. She went to bed, as sick as I’ve seen her.

We checked on her every fifteen minutes. That’s what parents do. Around midnight, as the oldies sipped a cuppa before bed, and The Teenager spoke to a greater section of the Western world on Facebook, we heard her talking. In another dialect.

She was bolt upright, in her Titans’ jersey, wide-eyed. Her skin was bright red. There was gibberish talk. And she was burning up.

Our family has some experience in deciphering gibber. They’ve heard it from me more than once, usually after long sessions on the truth serum. But this was different.

I asked if she knew where she was. At home, she said. Are you in pain? She mumbled something, and waved towards the sheets, which were now soaked. I need seven, she called to someone beyond me. My little girl was boiling. I had an awful chill.

The Treasurer called the Health Hotline. The nurse was calm, and helpful. More than likely, it was a bad fever. But she couldn’t be sure. We need to rule out meningitis. Keep her in bed. Stay calm. And call an ambulance.

The temperature was now above 40 degrees. We sponged her, all of us. Her alien tongue ceased, finally. Relief, of sorts. But that bright colour remained.

You think the worst. That’s what parents do. You don’t say it, but you think it. And you stand at the front door in your winter pyjamas, and wait.

The paramedics arrived, on a shift from hell. Saturday night on the Gold Coast. They went to work quickly. Temperatures, skin checks, blood pressure.

The lead operator teased about her team’s loss to the Sharks. She smiled. Good sign. Is your neck sore honey? Please say no. Please not meningococcal.

It was, they decided, a severe fever. Nothing more sinister. The peak of this damn bug she’d been battling. And it would pass. We received instructions for medication and hydration. They told us to ring immediately if it flared again.

As they walked out, the second bloke pulled me aside. He recognised me. Because he’d been at this house before. Yes, I said sheepishly. I was the bloke with the dislocated ankle. In the garden, out the front. What are the odds? The curse of Mum-in-law’s house strikes again.

They walked back to the ambulance, giggling as they looked at the tiny retaining wall I fell from four months ago. I didn’t mind. They were amazing. Able to look after sooky old gardeners, and brave young girls, all with a smile.

I know parents who deal with way more than fevers. How do they do it? One of my best mates went through leukaemia with his young son. It was touch and go. They had to split their time between Cairns and Brisbane, as the treatments continued. His little bloke isn’t little any more. Fighting fit now.

My nephew survived a serious blood disorder as a baby. It seemed never-ending. But he survived. He had to, because he’ll be playing for the Maroons one day at Lang Park.

We have friends who just found out their four-year old has diabetes. Four years old. Life has been turned upside down. But this amazing little girl is giving them strength. They’ve been all but knocked over by the love and support from those around them.

And on it goes. You know someone too. Fighting the fight. Finding strength wherever they can.

Another chum is a doctor, who fights cancer in kids. A miracle worker. A mum, and a wife, and a wonderful specialist who makes sick children better. Most of the time.

On a dark day, every now and then, she has to tell families that the battle has been lost. The cancer was too much. The fight over. Can you imagine having to deliver that news? Next time you’re having a bad day at the office, think of her, preparing for that conversation.

As parents, we would gladly swap places with our sick kids. Make it me, not them. I’ve said that prayer. I bet many of you have too. But it doesn’t work that way.

Daughter Two was on the improve the next day. She wanted to hear more about her hour in fairyland. We’ll add to the story over the years, to achieve maximum embarrassment on her 18th birthday.

Of course, she’s managed to pass the bug on to me. Prepare for more gibber talk. And get the sponge bath ready. I’ll try to be as brave as Daughter Two. Unlikely. Just don’t call that paramedic out again.