“I was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010, when I was 42. I was renovating my house and at first I thought I’d just strained myself, but after a few weeks the pain became unbearable. I went to see my GP, who referred me to a specialist, and I had surgery shortly afterwards.
“It took me about three months to recover and then I had monthly tests after that. Six months later, the cancer started to come back, so I had to go through three rounds of chemotherapy. It was tough, but I used to walk in and say to the nurses, ‘I wouldn’t miss this for the world.’ By that I meant, ‘Bring it on – and if it’s not enough, give me a double dose.’
“The way I looked at it was that I was lucky – I could be treated. Not everyone can. I didn’t want to sit in a corner and cry. I have three sons and I said to them, ‘Most men put their head in the sand but I’ll show you it’s possible to get through something like this.’
A turning point
“I was in the middle of my third cycle of chemotherapy when I saw an ad for sea kayaks. I used to be a surfer and it was something I’d always thought about, so I said, ‘Bugger this, I’m just going to do it.’ I went into the kayak shop and was looking wretched after three cycles of chemo. The girl stared at me like I was in the wrong place, but I walked out with two kayaks – one for me and one for my sons, so they could come out with me.
“I finished chemo in 2011 and started going out kayaking with my son, Tully, 17. One Friday morning, I took my phone with me and shot a photograph of him silhouetted against the sun. After that I started taking my camera out with me all the time.
“I kayak on Lake Burley Griffin [in Canberra] every morning and most evenings too. It’s my counselling session every day and night. I go out before the dawn and get that magic, golden moment as the sun is coming up. Sometimes I take up to 300 photos. But I don’t look for it – the photo will always find you.
“When I get home, I upload photos onto my blog, Twitter and the Canberra Times site. Then I’m out the door by 8.30am to take my kids to school and day care and go to my job as a plumber.
“I’ve had amazing feedback through my blog. People have written to me saying that because of injury, sickness or old age they can no longer go down to the lake, but they can still visit it through my blog. I had a guy in his 70s who said he was diagnosed with cancer and had given up, then he started visiting my blog. He now goes walking every morning with his daughter and takes photographs.
“My kayak gives me time to clear my head. It gives me time to process. It gives me peace and contentment. If I don’t go every day my stress levels go up. If the weather is really bad, I won’t go out but I’ll be checking the Bureau of Meteorology website constantly to see if conditions are going to improve.
“For me, kayaking and photography is about escapism. I’ve dodged coal tankers in Newcastle harbour and gone up and down the north and south coast of NSW. I was kayaking in the wetlands on the mid-north coast and a guy came along in a canoe. I said, ‘Mate, it’s beautiful here.’ He replied, ‘Can you believe people have lived here all their lives and never seen this?’
If you were in Lake Como in Italy, you’d be taking photos left, right and centre, but so often we miss what’s on our front doorstep.
“People often think I’m mad, especially when I go out in the middle of winter. I’ve been out when it’s so cold the kayak sticks to the roof rack, but it’s so amazing to be out there – you just have to be careful not to fall in.
“My hobbies have helped me recover both mentally and physically. I’ve been cancer-free for 18 months now and I only have to go for check-ups every four months. I call my oncologist my ‘life coach’.
“I’d love to be able to paddle and photograph around the world but I’m not that driven for it to be a big success. I’m not a photographer, I’m just a plumber who paddles a sea kayak.”