This Saturday, November 20th will be my one year anniversary. One year since I walked into the Dr’s office with future ahead of me and walked out with the words “two years to live” echoing in my head. November 20, 2009 I found out I had cancer. I drove home in a daze and sat on my sofa staring at the blank TV numb to the rest of the world.
I knew this brief moment was going to be the only one I would get to deal with the situation myself. I knew once I started telling people, they would start piling on the advice or would break down and I would have to be the one to pick them back up. I knew this was the calm before the storm, and I was right.
I handled those earlier days like any good rugby player, pushing through the pain and drinking lots of beer.
As chemo treatments started and my body started to give out to the point where I could not get out of bed, all I could think of was that I would never be able to play rugby again. Never again smelling the grass of the pitch, scrumming down, taking down someone twice my size, sharing in the stories of the matches with my mates, and never scoring a try…
Almost no one on my team knew. We had our holiday party in December, and even though I could barely do anything for myself, I was going to go even if it killed me. If there was a chance that I was not going to make it to see 2011 I was not going to miss a chance to see my friends. Even though I was pretty much a walking pharmacy I had a great time.
Next was the team’s New Year pajama party. One month into my 4 months of chemo I still could not do much on my own, but again, I was going. I did it once, I could do it again. I was not going to be a victim; I was not going to be a helpless cancer patient. Like before I opened up the magical pharmacy, got drugged up, and headed out. I survived and had a great time doing it. There were the moments where I thought I was going to just fall out, but I survived.
The parties were great and made me feel normal, but the big event was still on the horizon, the first practice in February. My Dr insisted that I could not play. That I ran the risk of getting an infection that would surely kill me with my lack of immune system. Every week I would ask and every week it was the same response, “You play, you die.” Well hell, I was supposed to diet anyway, so why not do it having fun.
I went to the first practice with kit bag in hand, again drugged out of my mind, but determined to do it. I would like to say those first practices went as well as the two previous parties. I threw up a few times, and my body gave out a few others. I left practice in so much pain I screamed the entire drive home. However, I was not going to let my team see me shed one tear.
Each practice was motivation to go to the next. I would tell myself, “You lasted longer last time you can do more this time.” I was getting better each time. The after practice pain was decreasing. Granted I was still drugged up, but I was doing it. Eventually I got to the point where you would not have guessed that anything was wrong with me. My team and my coach pushing me along and were there when I needed them.
The end of the beginning came during our first match and I was a starter. I just kept telling myself that it was just 80 minutes. Over and done before I knew it. 10 minutes into the game and things were going great. Then came the tackle. Charging towards me was a 270+ lb man holding the ball that I wanted more than anything at that moment. We slammed against each other and as I pulled him down he fell directly on top of me fracturing one of my ribs and spraining my knee. Holding back the tears I told my coach that I was fine that I had just pulled something. I pulled myself up off the ground and got back in the game.
Every step sent pain shooting up my leg. Every breath was like a stab to the chest. The meds mixing with the adrenalin causing my head to come in and out of focus. I was not giving up. I continued to play with everything I had in me. We were scrumming 5 meters from the goal we were defending with 5 minutes left in the game. The ball was out and I was up and running. Before I knew it they had scored and the world went black. All the mental strength I had was not going to be enough. Reality had caught up to me. They dragged me off the pitch and the tears started. All I could think was that I had failed. I could not last the entire match. The disease had won. My Dr’s voice was pounding in my head, “You play, you die.” Every muscle fiber burned and my skin hurt; I knew this had to be what it feels like to die…
Some time later I realized I was leaning against a pillar looking towards the pitch in the shade. The air smelled good and the world was calm. People were moving around me. I tried to get to my feet, but my muscles were not going to cooperate. One of my team members saw me and urged me to stay still, but I was not going to miss the after match talk. I convinced him to help me up and he carried me over.
The next months I watched as my friends and team mates practiced and played. Mustering up every ounce of energy to be there in support every chance I could. Fighting the pain to run out there and play but knowing that I could not.
In March, I took my last treatment and the hell was over. I came out the other side alive and a stronger person that when it all started. I could not have done it without my rugby brothers and sisters. Always pushing me and supporting me when things got too tough. Like in a match, when things are the hardest and the enemy is barring down on you, they are always there. They always have your back. They keep you alive.