Dark nights and tears as Bert fights can­cer


ON the foot­ball field, the great Brett Kenny al­ways found a way to win.

Grand fi­nals, State of Ori­gin’s, Test matches, the le­gendary Par­ra­matta Eels star’s magic was that he re­fused to be beaten.

At 56, not much has changed. The heart­beat of the last Eels side to win a premier­ship in 1986, Kenny is fac­ing his great­est bat­tle of all, hav­ing been di­ag­nosed in July with Non-Hodgkin lym­phoma and a can­cer­ous 11cm tu­mour in­side a cav­ity in his stom­ach. Re­ceiv­ing be­tween four to eight hours of chemo­ther­apy ev­ery three weeks, Kenny’s fight also in­cludes jab­bing a painkilling in­jec­tion into his stom­ach.

“It’s not un­til day six — with day one be­ing the day that I re­ceive chemo — that I start to feel fa­tigued and tired,’’ Kenny said.

“I’m on the strong­est med­i­ca­tion and I’m go­ing OK, but ini­tially, there were nights I laid in bed cry­ing.

“I’d be think­ing ‘what’s go­ing to hap­pen? How long am I go­ing to live? It scared the shit out of me and I got up­set about it all. What up­set me most was when I thought about my three kids ... they would’ve been think­ing, ‘I won­der if dad is go­ing to be around to see me get mar­ried or have chil­dren?’ ’’

The irony for Eels fans, who have en­joyed the club’s most mem­o­rable sea­son since 2009, is that one of their he­roes has watched the club’s ride from a small two bed­room unit op­po­site The Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal at West­mead.

Last night, he cheered on his old club against the Cow­boys in­side the Chil­dren’s ward where 16-year-old step­son Ri­ley has called home since tragedy struck last March. Ri­ley suf­fered dev­as­tat­ing spinal in­juries af­ter div­ing into a river with friends.

“I re­ceived a phone call from one of his school mates that he’d dived into a river and split his head open,’’ Kenny said.

“I rang Suzeanne (Ri­ley’s mother) and we were think­ing he’d need a cou­ple of stitches.

“But from there it just evolved. They (doc­tors) told he’d have to be he­li­coptered to Royal North Shore Spinal Unit and then they told us the sit­u­a­tion we never ex­pected.”

Ri­ley has been di­ag­nosed as an in­com­plete quad­ri­plegic with lim­ited move­ment in his arms and hands, sim­i­lar to that of Alex McKin­non. For most fam­i­lies, the crush­ing and trau­matic dou­ble-blow in the space of just four months, would be all too much.

But there’s al­ways been some­thing spe­cial about “Bert”, who just 48-hours af­ter chemo­ther­apy last Wed­nes­day, was back at work in his role with South­ern Cross Group be­cause “we’re down to one wage with my wife un­able to work as she cares for Ri­ley, so we’re just push­ing on’’.

The $400 hire fee for a spe­cial van to trans­port Ri­ley home each week­end, Kenny’s chemo­ther­apy bills and the ex­pense to build, wheel­chair ramp and mod­ify their Tumbi Umbi home is why a Footy Leg­ends fundraiser in Oc­to­ber has been or­gan­ised by prosportsmem­roa­

“We’re also ex­tremely for-

tu­nate that the rent for the unit at West­mead is partly-funded by Cen­tral Coast Kids in Need, so we can re­main in Syd­ney for Ri­ley,’’ he said.

But Kenny knows also, his great­est sup­port has been his wife Suzanne. If not for her, his sit­u­a­tion could’ve been dire had she not booked an ap­point­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the wheez­ing she heard, ev­ery time Kenny trav­elled a flight of stairs.

“I thought I was just get­ting the flu or maybe hadn’t done much train­ing since we’ve been in Syd­ney,” he said.

“My wife rang the doc­tors and I went for a scan and had to wait a week for re­sults. I re­mem­ber driv­ing in the car and not re­mem­ber­ing how I got to where I wanted to go, I was in a daze for a week. The scans showed I had an 11cm tu­mour — but it’s in my stom­ach cav­ity. All my or­gans were fine, and it was only in that cav­ity. I saw a spe­cial­ist and they ex­plained it was non-Hodgkins’s lym­phoma. The suc­cess rate is very high.

“In an­other cou­ple of weeks I’ve got to go ... see whether it (tu­mour) has started to shrink.

“I’ll then go into re­mis­sion and as the spe­cial­ist said; ‘Hope­fully it will be at least 10 years be­fore you even have to worry about it again. I’m happy with that. We’ll just per­se­vere’.’’ Typ­i­cal


League great Brett Kenny out­side The Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal at West­mead. Pic­tures: Tim Hunter

Brett and Ri­ley, and (be­low right) Brett in ac­tion in the ‘80s.

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