“My whole life I’ve had a lot of self-confidence, which I attribute to my dad. I remember going to school carnivals and saying, ‘Do you think I’m going to win, Dad?’ And he’d say, ‘Of course you’re going to win! You’re a Du Bois!’ He taught me that nothing could beat me if I tried.
In 2010, five years after retiring as a builder, developer and designer, I was surfing on the South Coast of New South Wales. I was about 115kg and very strong. Going under a wave, I heard an horrendous crack in my neck. I put off seeing a doctor. Instead, I went to a masseuse and a chiropractor, who urged me to get an X-ray because they could tell something was amiss.
Eventually, not being able to take the pain anymore, I saw a GP. When she opened the envelope and looked at the X-ray, she literally started crying. I said, ‘Just relax, love. I’ve got a headache – it can’t be that bad’. She said, ‘It is that bad. You’ve got a giant tumour on your C1 vertebra, all over your brain and the base of your skull’.
In hospital that night they opened me up and discovered I had what was known in those days as plasmacytoma myeloma. Basically, I had cancer in bone marrow cells, which instead of making bone marrow were eating it. But, look, I really don’t invest in the cancer thing. I invest in getting better.
I had surgery and radiotherapy, even though the initial advice had been not to bother because the cancer was unstoppable and would probably kill me within three months. It was around this time a casting agent was telling me that an executive in charge of a new television program would do whatever it took to get me in for a casting. I’d been totally uninterested in working in television up to that point, but I said, ‘I’ll you what: you ring me up in three months and if I answer the phone, I’m in’. It was an opportunity to give myself a goal, which I love. And three months later I walked onto the set of The Renovators.
PRIDE BEFORE A FALL
I felt like I’d smashed that opponent pretty quickly. I figured, ‘You tried to get me, but you step into the ring with me and you can’t hold your hands up, you’re going to get knocked out’. That’s what I felt I’d done. The following year I met Amanda Keller and next thing I know I’m on The Living Room.
I made some lifestyle changes but probably not as many as I should have. I threw myself back into work, and seven years ago my beautiful twins were born. So I was a dad, not getting enough sleep and going flat-out.
My doctors had warned me that when you’ve had the cancer I had, it’s going to manifest again at the next level, which is multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow. I got that diagnosis in 2017 – and it knocked me around because now I was a father with a strong sense of being a protector. For the first time in my life, I was scared.
The treatment this time included a double dose of chemotherapy, which took my body to death’s door. I have never felt so helpless and weak. I also needed a stemcell transplant. I’m not a religious guy, but I literally prayed at night in hospital that at some stage I’d get back the strength I needed to lift up my children. You see, I have these incredible memories of the strength of my father, and I was very worried that my own children would remember me as a weak person who was a burden on their mother. I’m a very positive guy, but that thought really haunted me.
STRENGTH OF WILL
After the stem-cell work last year I was in isolation for 21 days. I was 58 at the time and I said to myself, ‘If I get through this, I will do everything in my power to be a powerful man again’. In fact, I set a goal to become the fittest, strongest, most powerful 60-year-old in the country. Amanda visited me in hospital when I’d lost about 20 kilograms and looked terrible. But already I had the rubber bands out, trying to do pseudo benchpresses.
For me, strength is looking like you’re a man, looking like you’ve got biceps and triceps, strong pecs and a set of abs. But the truth is I rushed into the exercise. A couple of friends would come to visit and I’d suggest we go for a brisk walk of a couple of kilometres, but 150 metres down the street I’d have to drop to one knee and they’d have to hold me or I’d pass out.
I went home weak and frail. After a time, I realised I couldn’t keep beating myself up for not rebuilding fast enough physically. So what I resolved to do was strengthen my mental health even more. I really knuckled down on my meditation and the understanding of my body. Slowly but surely, in my home gym, I’m trying to regain the physical strength that I want my children to remember. Even if it’s just a half-hour of stretching and light weights, I can get into that.
What I have is not curable. But I’m in a great place. I’m as good as someone can be who has multiple myeloma. The best medicine a human can have is good nutrition, plenty of fluids, regular exercise, plenty of sunshine and a positive outlook on life. If you have all those things, your body will respond. I’m 60 next year. What I want is for my children to be able to tell their children one day that their dad was a powerful man.”