I’m going to write this series in a bit of an unusual way. The first part of each post will be about the Great Cycle Challenge, while the second part will be the first time I’ve put finger to keyboard to write about our time with Max and leukaemia. I hope it’ll be a good insight into why fundraising is so important.
Day one, and it’s a 0430 start. Sadly, it’s not to blearily tumble into Lycra and head out for a Wollongong-and-back loop on the Bianchi; instead, I’m writing this at 12,000m on my way to a work gig.
I’ve got 500 bike km to cover this month, and I’m warning you now – it’ll be a real battle to get them in. My calendar resembles some sort of evil horizontal Tetris puzzle, sentencing me to 16 away days out of 31. Add to that the finalisation of a house purchase and our eldest in HSC mode, and the month of October looks short. Very short.
I have some cunning plans , though. Commuting for part of my daily 158km round-trip on a few days will add some valuable bike miles. Sitting on spin bikes at hotel gyms will account for a few more. Lunchtime rides, morning quickies, mountain bike epics… It’s going to be a stretch, but we’ll get there.
He looked so, so unwell, lying on the lounge that Tuesday morning. Pale, sunken eyes, a look of absolute exhaustion on his four-year-old face that shouldn’t have been there. That’s the thing about cancer; it’s an elusive bastard to detect. Our rambunctious livewire hadn’t been himself for a couple of months now. His once beloved swimming lessons had become a screaming match of reluctance, he’d been talking about “really sore legs”, and his colour… even my mum remarked on how pale Max was.
There was a lot going on in our lives at the time, too. Mel’s beloved mum Jessica had died earlier in the year after a long illness, just missing the birth of our third child, Amelia. Naturally, we put a lot of Max’s behaviour down to the fact that he was a little boy now competing for mum’s attention. He wasn’t sick, per se – he just wasn’t himself.
But on that Tuesday, there was no doubt; it was time to go to the doctor. And as I drove to the office in Sydney, preparing for a trip to the States for work, I couldn’t ignore a small, but perceptible, sense of dread creeping into my stream of consciousness.
By lunchtime, though, Mel was ready to abandon the doctor’s appointment. “He’s back to normal,” she said tiredly; code for ‘he’s being a little shit again’. Max was a pretty difficult youngster, it has to be said, with poor sleeping routines and a very active sense of mischief. And just hours after looking so awful, he looked to be back at his best/worst.
I’ll forever be thankful that Mel took Max to our local GP, Dr Pam Jolliffe. We’re not doctor people, us Robsons, but it doesn’t bear thinking about if we’d skipped this one. The doc literally took one look at Max before ordering immediate blood tests and advising Mel to call me.
I was in with my magazine publisher at the time I got the text from a tearful Mel; a kind, patient and thoroughly decent man called Mike Koslowski. He’d been incredibly supportive through Mel’s mum’s illness, and boy, was I was about to test him again. I recall I made a lame joke about the Robson’s luck deserting them again, not knowing, of course, what the diagnosis of Max’s illness was. But I knew. I just knew. Something was not right.