June 23, 2017
Personal Stories

By Darren Williams

I recently had the pleasure of competing in the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic (http://www.canoeclassic.asn.au), a 111km overnight race/paddle down the Hawkesbury River. This is an annual mecca for kayak and canoe enthusiasts plus anyone else looking to test their abilities on the water or just has that needed dash of insanity. It is also a key fund raising event for the Arrow Foundation that supports patients and families dealing with leukaemia and other diseases treatable by bone marrow transplants as well as funding medical research.

Using some of the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol has promised us all, the organisers allowed my family and me to draw the raffle, one part of the events fundraising. I was given this honour as 6 years ago I underwent a bone marrow transplant at St Vincent’s Public Hospital for leukaemia and now enjoy each day of good health given to me by the medical team and those who help fund them. What I wanted to tell each of the 500+ paddlers is that not only were they taking part in one of Australia’s great endurance sporting events but they were also helping to give hope to the unfortunate many in Australia that have to deal with this type of cancer. Other than cancer I also suffer from embarrassment and didn’t say a word hence this note.

Hope can be a powerful thing.

In 2001 I heard 3 words that should never be put together “you have cancer”. I had finally settled down in Sydney after spending most of my twenties bouncing around Africa doing things that should have seen me dead many times over. Married the girl of my dreams and was enjoying raising my 10 month old daughter. Not Fair! This is the response of many who hear these 3 words including me. I consider myself a reasonable person and try to do right by others. But began to wish someone else had this cancer, not me. Let someone else fight this, someone who didn’t have a young family, who hadn’t decided to live the safe life, who didn’t care. Cancer is a dangerous thing on many levels and can defeat you mentally as well as physically.

Fortunately I have a very supportive and close family, a great medical team at St Vincent’s Public Hospital and the Arrow Foundation backing me. Cancer has brought me to my physical and proverbial knees many times but I have been lucky, some say I have made it.

I have and will always fight to hold onto my health. I have realised what I have to lose, it isn’t anything that can be brought or sold. It’s wanting to grow old with my wife, wanting to get angry with my daughter about her future boyfriends, wanting to walk her down the aisle when God finally produces the perfect man, having a beer or three with my son, the list goes on. Since my transplant I have trained for and competed in my first Ironman then three more after that, two with my wife. I had always wanted to compete in “The Classic” but the timing always clashed with my triathlon training. Post transplant I do fatigue easily. I struggle with people sneezing on the other side of the country causing me to come down with a cold. I have had numerous rounds with pneumonia, shingles, hernia and other weird bugs. I am also a coward and scared of missing out on anything that I will do most things to stay around!

One thing cancer does give that I wouldn’t change is raw emotion. Many people don’t understand this and confuse it with the canned stuff delivered on TV. Strip everything away and you learn to truly feel. My family, friends, Ironman Triathlon and now The Classic has given me this, without the need for radiation and chemo! At 3:30am on Sunday I was roughly 85km into the race, it was dark, I was wet and cold and my body was screaming out to stop. I was experiencing dizzy spells and began to worry about tipping my kayak. I then began to blubber like an idiot. I’m not a good enough writer to put my thoughts into words. I was thinking about everyone who had not won their battles with cancer and those that would one day have to face it. I was thinking of my wonderful wife, daughter and son.

I find testing myself physically and mentally gives me some sort of childish assurance that I am strong. I have experience looking down at my crying infant daughter and not having the strength to pick her up. Never again. Others find this strength from their own sources, it is important that we all find this to succeed. One common thing that I know in my heart is that it is a million times harder to do this without hope.

The organisers and participants in the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic help give this hope. The people at the Arrow Foundation and the medical teams they help support give hope.

There will always be hope while people like this are there. That is our true wealth.

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