I first heard about Decembeard during December 2013, around 6 months after an event that was one of the hardest I’ve experienced in my life.
I work as an anatomical scientist, which means I spend my days facilitating cancer diagnosis for a living.
I see all kinds of things in my lab.
We deal with hundreds of thousands of cases every year – not all cancer diagnoses, but it does make up a fair chunk of our work.
Deano was one of my best mates.
In November 2012 he felt unwell and was complaining of a sore back, so he went to see his GP.
Deano was young and fit.
He played rep hockey, was recently married, dreamed of becoming a firefighter and was as healthy as any of us.
When they sent him for an MRI scan to see what was wrong with his back, it didn’t seem alarming.
What they found however was.
In his large bowel there was a tumour the size of his fist.
He was booked immediately for surgery, which was followed by chemotherapy.
When I was told about Dean’s diagnosis, I feared the situation was serious and I was overcome by a cold sick feeling.
But Dean, his new wife Abby, and his entire family remained optimistic.
A 26 year old doesn’t even get bowel cancer, right?
Dean and I had been so close – we were like brothers in many ways.
We had a tight group of mates who were there for each other.
As teens we were with each other all the time, but work and family and other things started to crowd our time, and eventually we all saw less and less of each other.
The guilt of not having made more time when we had it overwhelmed me.
The list of things I ‘should’ have done began to grow in my head.
As I watched Dean become weaker during his chemotherapy, I promised myself that I would be a better friend once this was all over with.
When he 'pulled through' I would visit him and his wife Abby more often.
But he didn’t get better.
Dean’s 3 month PET scan revealed that his cancer had spread beyond his bowel.
When I heard, I went straight to his place to see him and to try and encourage him.
But when I arrived, I didn’t know what to say.
Even though I spent my days in a lab where talking about cancer was business-as-usual, I didn’t know what to say.
“You’ll beat this Buddy!”
“If there’s anyone who can, it’s you!”
I didn’t believe what I was saying, but I hoped he would.
For the next month, I drove to the hospital every other night and talked with Dean about a big trip I was planning to Europe.
We reminisced about the good old days, talking about serious fun we’d had on the Sunshine Coast, surfing, going to parties, cruising in his old red Falcon.
On the night before I left for my long planned adventure, I hugged Dean and told him I’d see him when I returned.
As I walked to my car I cried.
The chemo stopped working and there was nothing more the doctors could do.
Dean’s wife called me in Europe to let me know.
I was so far away.
He felt so close.
In response, I decided to take risks I wouldn't normally take.
I ran with the famous bulls of Pamplona in defiance of death and in defiance of what was happening to Dean.
He was the first person I texted when I completed the run.
From that point, I began texting Dean every day, sharing my antics with him as a way to stay close.
But he soon became so weak he could no longer read my words and his wife had to read them to him.
Dean and I spoke over the phone one last time before he died.
The pain medication caused him to slur his words so much I could hardly understand him over the phone, yet it was one of the most meaningful conversations of my life.
Dean passed away before I got back to Australia.
I received the news in a text.
I broke down and sobbed for what felt like hours.
My sister and I were able to attend Dean’s funeral via a Skype call and I broke down as I watched the boys carry his coffin out of the chapel, past the webcam.
When I returned, Dean’s closest family and friends gathered at Point Cartwright beach to scatter Dean’s ashes.
I still go there to remember Dean, our friendship and everything he meant to me.
And when people ask me why I got involved with Bowel Cancer Australia and Decembeard, I tell them I got involved because I remember Dean.
I’m passionate because I remember Dean and I want to make a difference because I remember Dean.
I hope you’ll join us this Decembeard and help Bowel Cancer Australia to help save lives.