Goodbye I wasn’t ready for
It was a moment that would make any teenager squirm.
I was 14, about to play in my first country cricket championships, the best female cricketers in NSW, which at the time boasted most of the Aussie team. I was really nervous, just keeping to myself and hoping I’d do OK.
Then Dad walked up to me and said, ‘Have you told them you’re an opening bowler’.
I replied, ‘No dad, I’m just happy to be here! Stop it!’
He said, ‘No, no, no. Go on, go tell them you’re an opening bowler!’
Sensing my reluctance, a few minutes later, I saw Dad walking up to Sally Shaw, who played for NSW and was captain of our South Coast team. My heart sunk as I watched a conversation unfold from afar, which, judging by the motioning towards me and Dad’s impeccable seam-up shadow bowling, appeared to be Dad making a case for me. I was beside myself.
A few minutes later Sal comes over, taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘I hear you’re an opening bowler’. I mumbled something about I’m happy just to be here and please disregard anything my dad has just said, then with a big grin on her face she asked, ‘Which end do you want?’
Now, that story might make my dad sound like a pushy parent. But he really wasn’t. He just saw that I wasn’t going to speak up, so he did it for me.
That moment encapsulated how amazing my dad Keith was, a father who supported and believed in me as much as I could have ever hoped.
The point of no return
Dad won’t be there to see me play for Australia in the Women’s T20 World Cup.
The news that he had cancer came not long after that country championship. It took a while to sink in. In fact, I’m not sure it ever truly did.
You hear about these things, someone’s parent getting cancer or having a heart attack or the like, but you never ever think it’s going to happen to you. I certainly couldn’t believe it could happen to my dad. He’d grown up in Dubbo, kicking about, riding dirt bikes, moved over to Bathurst, then to Wollongong, where he married Mum, settled down and had my brother Mitch and I. He was one of the strongest, kindest and most active blokes you could ever meet.
When I was told, it was as though there was a barrier to accepting what was going on. Intellectually, I could understand what cancer is and what it does. But it didn’t compute properly that my dad had it.
His battle with cancer lasted about two years and was full of ups and downs – the surgeries, remissions, the chemo and everything else that goes along with it. The initial diagnosis had been a shock, but I’m sure after that a lot would have been held back from me, given my age at the time. Also, Dad was very stoic and I’m sure he wanted to make sure us kids weren’t too worried.
Dad’s first surgery was to remove the cancer from his bowel and the doctor said it was a success. Then it went into his liver. He went through another surgery to remove it and there was a lot of optimism because the liver regenerates. If you’re going to get cancer anywhere, the doctors said, the liver is where you want it. We were all very positive and, afterwards, Dad did all the one-percenters, eating well and so on.
The good run was short-lived. When he went back for scans, the machine lit up everywhere. He had spots in his lungs and his liver again and that’s when things passed the point of no return.
What’s really remarkable – and will stay with me for the rest of my life – is that right throughout everything, Dad refused to wallow in his illness. I’m sure there were really hard times he had in private. But he always put on a happy face when he was around us kids. The chemo and radiation, of course, drained his energy. But then he’d perk up and we’d be back out, going fishing or down to the beach or camping, like we always had.
Dad kept that attitude until really late on. He didn’t want us to feel that things were changing. He didn’t want anyone to see him as a victim. It was a really amazing display of strength and positivity.
Dad’s brother Phil was a nurse and organised a bed for him to stay at home, we were grateful that the last few weeks he could be at home, the house where we grew up and had such great memories, instead of in a soulless hospital room. He’d done his fair share in those. But those last few weeks were really tough. Dad fought hard and, being the driven and headstrong man he was, made it to my brother’s high school graduation and his 18th birthday. Then it was as though he knew he’d played all his cards.
I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable. But I don’t know if you can ever really be prepared to say goodbye to a parent. Not when you’re 16, anyway.
Losing Dad was a life-defining experience for me. It changed me as a person and gave me a strong sense of what’s important in life. It’s made me feel so thankful for what I have now, family and friends who love and support me, and to be a part of this fantastic team in the increasingly changing landscape of women’s sport.
Another big thing I learnt from Dad was that if you keep chugging away and doing whatever you can to be the best you can be, you can be happy with that. It’s the way I’ve approached my cricket and I’d like to think it’s what’s got me to where I am today.
‘Don’t have a heart attack just yet’
Cricket started for me, like many others, playing against my brothers in the backyard. I then played at school and for local club teams. I’ve really enjoyed it. If you’re half decent at something, I guess you tend to enjoy it a bit more.
Eventually, I made my way into the NSW under-age program and thought it was pretty cool being able to go away with your mates to play cricket in a new city. I had some great times and made some lifelong friendships from those days.
After school, I got a gig studying exercise science at Wollongong Uni. Meanwhile, I kept chipping away in the NSW development squad, which was basically the state Second XI. At that time, the NSW team was amazing, with the likes of Julie Hayes, Leonie Coleman, the Blackwell sisters, Lisa Sthalekar, Lisa Keightley and others.
I was a 170cm bowling machine for them, which, along with my team-mate Clare Crewdson, meant we’d roll out three-hour bowling sessions in the nets on the regular. Starting a bit zippy and finishing with powder puffs. It was a great experience being able to bowl to players of that calibre, but I realised that my opportunity at NSW wasn’t going to come any time soon.