Maddy's Story

When I was a little girl, my Dad and I always loved to play cards. Every weekend. Every holiday. Every spare moment.

52 cards.
4 different suits.
2 jokers.
Endless opportunities.

I was always fascinated by the skill, the strategy and the luck involved in playing the perfect hand.

Today, I think about this often and I’ve realised that this is how we should look at life.  We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we choose to play the hand.

Every 5 hours, 1 person is diagnosed with Brain Cancer, and in April of 2016, my Dad was that one. This was our joker and suddenly, we were all in.

Four kids. A beautiful wife. A successful career. A fit and healthy lifestyle. Travelling the world. Running in marathons. Even trekking Kokoda. To me, the strongest man in the world.

The doctors initially told us that there was a small shadow on the left side of my Dad’s brain, but later, rocked our world with a diagnosis that we didn't see coming.  A stage 4 Glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of cancer, with currently no cure.

Dad was given 12 months to live and this was no bluff.

Our family dynamic has always been pretty unique. Unlike most families, for ten years it was just Mum, Dad and I. The ‘three amigos’. We did everything together.  Then, in the blink of an eye, along came Indiana (12), Digger (11) and Archie (9). My sister and two brothers bought a whole new dimension to our household. I guess you could call it a good kind of chaos, but chaos, none the less.

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Following Dad’s diagnosis, we wanted to live every day to its full potential. To create memories. So, that’s exactly what we did.  We treated every day with a simple philosophy – “Don’t stop… today is a good day”.

After 25 years together, my parents ‘finally’ got married. We even took the kids to Disneyland. Mum and Dad ventured around Europe on a cruise ship, Dad bought me a new car and we even treated ourselves to the ‘fancy’ restaurants in the city.

Throughout his 18-month battle with brain cancer, Dad never folded. The courage and bravery he showed was extraordinary. Always positive and always hopeful.  In a word – inspirational.

But by far, one of Dad’s greatest achievements was his decision to join forces with the Mark Hughes Foundation, the National Rugby League and Channel Nine, where he’d worked for over 20 years, to establish the NRL’s Beanie for Brain Cancer Round.  The remarkable and unique sight of rugby league players taking to the field wearing beanies helped spread Dad’s message far and wide across social media, radio, newspapers and of course, television.

We were overwhelmed with the love and support from players, coaches, rugby league executives, television personnel, politicians, athletes and the wider sporting community. And we still are. In 2017, we sold over 100,000 beanies and raised over 2 million dollars.

Dad was extremely proud, and he knew this wasn’t a one-off event - this was something we could do each and every year.  A masterstroke… absolute brilliance.  This was a royal flush.

For me, as I sat back and watched it all unfold, all I could think was how my Dad made this happen. It was all him. The strongest man in the world had now actually changed the world.

Sadly, at the end of 2017, Dad lost his battle with brain cancer. Since then, I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard. For all of us. But while my family and I have not been dealt the best cards, just like Dad, we’ll never fold.

I take so much pride and joy in continuing our fight against brain cancer. My Dad’s legacy has and will continue to inspire my family and I each and every day. Last year, our campaign raised over $2.6 million. And in 2019, we’re looking to do it all over again. We’ve set the bar at 3 million dollars. The cure is out there and we’re going to find it. After all, money equals research and research equals a cure.

This is how we play.  Once the cards are in your hand, it’s up to you, how you chose to play them.

Playing cards with my Dad may have been a simple pleasure, but they filled me with pure joy and leave me with memories that I will cherish forever.

Little did I know, the simple act of playing cards taught me a lot more than I could’ve ever imagined.

And I have my Dad to thank for that.

Written by Maddy Callanders  (Matt's daughter)