Don’t think the worst
During the pre-season, we had a trial game against a local team, Edgeworth, on the Saturday. The night before, I was playing a bit of PlayStation at home. There was no lump, no pain, nothing.
When I woke up the next day, there was this little lump on my neck and it felt a bit stiff. I didn’t think anything of it other than maybe I was on PlayStation for too long and strained my neck or something.
Before the trial game, I let our physio Nathan Renwick know that I had a funny thing on my neck and it was a bit sore. He massaged around it but he hadn’t seen anything like it, so he wasn’t sure what it was.
I played the game without any problems. Then, on the Monday, we went to the club GP and he organised for some tests and scans to be done later in the week.
It didn’t really play on my mind during that time. We didn’t know what it was, but I didn’t think the worst. My neck was sore, that was about all I thought of it. I was a bit concerned that it might stop me training for a little while, but that was about it.
I remember looking as the words came out of the doctor’s mouth, telling us what it was, then giving us all this information about what comes next. I couldn’t really take it in.
I became more concerned after the scans. The doctor and physio both suggested I call my mother, Anna, and have her fly over to be with me. The reason, they said, was because they didn’t want me to be alone if it turns out that it’s actually cancer.
Mum came to Newcastle and stayed with me for a couple of days before we had the appointment with the specialist. When the day came around, we went in to John Hunter Hospital together, along with a staff member from the club.
There were a lot of nerves by this stage but I tried to stay as strong as possible for my mother. She was very tense, understandably. But she had the same faith I did. We’d spoken about it in the lead-up and decided we’d stay positive and believe that the results would show it was nothing serious.
We took a seat in the office at the hospital, me opposite the specialist, with my mother to my side. He came straight out with it - the tests had confirmed it was in fact thyroid cancer. As you can imagine, it was a very challenging moment.
Mum broke down a little bit, had a few tears. For me, it was more just a blank sort of feeling. I didn’t know really what to think. I remember looking as the words came out of the doctor’s mouth, telling us what it was, then giving us all this information about what comes next. I couldn’t really take it in. It didn’t feel real to me.
Mum and I headed home and rang Dad. He was gutted. Devastated. But, once the shock settled a bit, Mum and I had a long chat about what was going to happen.
We reminded each other that the prognosis was good, that these things are treatable - thyroid cancer is the most treatable cancer you can have - and we decided that no one could have done anything differently. It was no one’s fault, there was no one or nothing to blame. We just needed to deal with it.
We also reminded ourselves that there are so many people in the world who are so much worse off. It’s the little things you have to be thankful for. I could be thankful that it was caught early, it was stage one, and it was treatable.
I was a bit nervous going in for the operation to remove the growth. But, after the two-and-a-half hour surgery, it was great to hear that everything had been a success.
Over the next 11 days that I was in hospital, most of the players from the team and a number of the staff came in to see me. There was so much support, which made me feel good.
Life is beautiful
A lot of my mindset around this experience was shaped by my belief in God. We are Greek Orthodox and, as a youngster, my grandparents would always take us to church for Christmas, Easter and at other times.
My faith in God really helped me and my family through. My parents and I talked about it quite a bit and they felt the same way, that God’s work is great and things happen for a reason. When I had time to myself in the hospital, I often had these thoughts in my mind.
God is there to protect us and there are others, who have passed on, who are looking down on us and protecting us. I’m thankful to God that things ended up the way they did for me, that everything worked out OK.
I was over the moon to sign a three-year contract extension. A lot of thoughts had gone through my mind leading up to that point, about life, about football.
You can’t go through something like what I did and not feel changed in some way. The experience has given me a different outlook on aspects of life. There are people born with disabilities, those who have big challenges each and every day, and so many of us who don’t have those sorts of challenges often take life for granted.
Life is beautiful. But there are going to be many more things I’ll go through in the years ahead which will be difficult. It’s about standing up to them and trying to see the positives wherever possible.
The past few months have also taught me to take care of my body a bit more, in terms of eating and recovering well. This might, in the end, have a positive impact on my football. Maybe these are the lessons God was trying to teach me.
I also have a strong feeling that I should use my experience as a way to tell other people that they shouldn’t shy away from these things. Problems come up and our medical professionals do an amazing job. If you feel like something is wrong, don’t try to be too brave. Go and get it checked.
I’ve been so blessed. I am so thankful. I have wonderful people around me. Thank you to my family, my girlfriend Mia, my friends back home in Adelaide and my great teammates and staff at the club. The whole Australian football community helped pull me through this.