Survivors Enjoying life
As a society we are probably guilty of over-using the term ‘survivor’ when describing a resilient individual. While people who make it through an environment of war or major disaster are obvious survivors, we often give the same label to individuals who endure upheaval in a turbulent work environment or maintain their place at the top of some social or political heap.
In the past few years we’ve even gone as far as giving the title to the winners of contrived television game shows.
But if we want to find someone who truly fits the description of a ‘survivor’ we need look no further than long-time Horsham and Wimmera community advocate Bob Kirsopp.
Beyond the genial smiles of Bob and his wife Mavis is a remarkable story that involves a long-term personal health battle, a battle that has allowed the couple to enjoy life into their 80s.
Bob and Mavis are optimists, and they’ve needed to be considering Bob has fought various forms of life-threatening cancer for more than 30 years.
Bob is a cancer survivor, having beaten the odds not only once but three times, and he only needs to consider the numbers if he ever needs reminding about his luck in life.
“Way back in 1986 at Peter Maccallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne I was one of 232 initial patients. Now, I’m the only one left,” he said.
Bob and Mavis are familiar across the region, Bob as a Horsham councillor for nine years, including two in the 1970s as mayor, and Mavis as a civil celebrant for 35 years and responsible for marrying close to 2000 people, as well as being a Justice of the Peace.
The pair also established Horsham Lawnmower Centre before Bob took up a handyman role in retirement, zipping between jobs in his trademark Mini Moke.
The battle with cancer started in October, 1986, when Bob sought treatment for pain in his right shoulder.
An x-ray and tests revealed cancer in the right lung, which prompted a three-month, five-day weekly course of radiotherapy. He had a total of 36 doses of radiation.
Bob said after his initial treatment he was told to go home and put his affairs in order.
“I was given six months to live,” he said. “And the question I asked myself as I got closer to the date was ‘am I going to be here tomorrow?’
“At the same time Mavis tried to keep home life as normal as possible.”
Three-monthly check-ups turned to sixmonthly check-ups and extended to annual tests which continued until 2014, 27 years after the initial diagnosis.
But there were others issues. In 2010
Bob was back getting radiotherapy to treat skin cancer on his face and in 2014, after a colonoscopy, was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He underwent surgery followed by about five months of chemotherapy.
And to complicate matters further, Mavis, Bob’s backstop throughout his health dramas, also became ill.
“You know through it all Mavis has been the bullet-proof one, a great carer, and suddenly she has a heart attack,” Bob said.
Mavis is still recovering from her illness, adding that it has been Bob’s turn to ‘come to the party’.
“Now I have to do as I’m told,” she said.
The Kirsopps put down their success to rising above circumstances to maintaining strong connections with people and ‘staying involved’.
“One of the things Bob did for anyone going through a similar situation and needing support, information or someone simply to talk to, was make himself available,” Mavis said.
Bob said he travelled all over the place and sometimes made return visits. “I’d say
‘be positive and look at me’ while perhaps explaining various aspects of treatment,” he said.
“You have to be involved in people and projects. For 21 years I was an area coordinator for Neighbourhood Watch. You can’t just sit around and feel sorry for yourself. I have a saying: live today and let tomorrow take care of itself’ and I stick by that. You just have to make the most of every day.”
The Kirsopps have joined a community chorus in celebrating news that Horsham will become home to a new Wimmera Cancer Centre.
They agreed one of the worst aspects of undergoing cancer treatment was spending hours on the road travelling.
“All that going backwards and forwards takes its toll. What’s happening is brilliant. The worst parts are before and after treatment,” Bob said.
“I believe it’s the greatest thing that’s happened in Horsham for many years,” Mavis added. “The hope is that it can eventually evolve, in the long-term, from a respite and care centre into a full-on treatment centre. That would be fantastic.”
With both reaching an age of 82, Bob and Mavis are more than survivors. They are also examples of why it’s always good to fight a good fight.
Bob and Mavis Kirsopp