When Sam Rowe got sick, he thought only about getting better. When he was well again he got back to what he had been doing: finding out whether he was good enough to get a spot in the Carlton team. He had felt lucky, right through his treatment for testicular cancer two-and-a-bit years ago. Lucky that he had the football club’s doctor to talk to, and lucky that he got to see the best specialists. They had been optimistic, he was sure they would be right, and the chemotherapy didn’t make him feel too sick. He also saw people suffering much more than he was.
“When you’re going through treatment, it tends to take over your mind and all your focus and effort goes into getting well,” Rowe said. “I never wanted to draw attention to myself or make it seem like what I went through was more important than what other people were out there dealing with. But when it’s over, and it’s gone, you start to think, I know what those people might be thinking or feeling or dealing with. If I can help people in those situations, in any way, that’s what I want to do.”
First he had to re-establish himself, to feel confident again. It took a while. It was a year before Rowe felt like he was as fit as he had been when he got to Carlton, as a 24-year-old on the second chance he knew
At that time, he had played in only a handful of games, he had just one year to run on his contract and he had been asked to train as a defender. “I’d been OK, but just OK. I thought, If this is going to be my last year, I want to least know that I’ve put absolutely everything into it,” he said. “I wanted to train really hard in the pre-season, get myself as fit as I could and do everything I could to play in the team every week and cement my spot. Whatever happened from there was going to be fine.”
“I never in a million years would have thought something bad was ever going to happen to me, but that’s what guys do” – Sam Rowe
The new role has given him that spot in the side, a good opponent to concentrate on each week, and things to think about beyond whether he’ll get another game. He has done it very well: earlier this month, Rowe signed a new two-year contract. “Having that continuity, and knowing you’re in the side, is such a massive thing. When you’re in and out, you work so hard to stay in, and you worry a lot about making mistakes. But I think this year I’ve started to believe that what I can do matters to the team and can help the team,” Rowe said. “You start to think, how can I make a difference? What have I got to do? How can I do it? You feel like you have a role, and so the questions in your head start to change. You start to feel so much more positive about your game.”
Rowe never wanted his illness to be the most important thing about him, and didn’t feel like it ever came to define him, but feels happy now to talk about what he went through if it might help someone else decide it might be worth having something checked out. He is helping to support the Victorian Cancer Council’s “Make More Memories” campaign, encouraging men to talk about their health in ways he never, ever would have thought to do when he was a just-drafted 24-year-old living in a new city and thinking only about when and how he would get his first game for Carlton.
“I was fit and healthy, as far as I was concerned. I never in a million years would have thought something bad was ever going to happen to me, but that’s what guys do. We think we’re bulletproof, which is why it’s important to talk and take notice of each other and make sure we’re all going OK,” Rowe said. “One thing I’ve learnt is that no one is invincible, and that things come up. But the other thing I think is that if you talk about it and get on top of it early, it might end up being just one little thing in your life.”
Read more about the Make More Memories campaign, and find out what you can do to cut the cancer risk of those around you, here.
This article was originally published in The Age and can be accessed here.