EELS LEGEND TALKS: MY CANCER HOPE
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 prosportsmemroabilia.com.au.
“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.