Kick turns out be lifesaver

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Sharing the journey . . . Cancer survivor and Otago Polytechnic chaplain Steve Downey is ambassador for this weekend's Otago Students Relay for Life. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

An accidental kick in the privates turned out to be a lifesaver for cancer survivor and Otago Polytechnic chaplain Steve Downey.

Mr Downey is ambassador for the Otago Students Relay for Life, which will run from 6pm on Saturday until 6am on Sunday in the clocktower precinct at the University of Otago campus.

He will speak at the relay opening, cut the ribbon and lead the survivors’ lap, as well as sharing his story during the candlelight ceremony at midnight.

The former deputy head of Aquinas College student hall of residence, Mr Downey has been involved in many Relay for Life events over the years, with a “posse” of students.

“I’m really looking forward to being part of this great, student-led event this weekend,” he said.

In 2008, Mr Downey was in his early 20s and newly married to wife Laura, when an accidental kick in the testicles resulted in unusual, long-lasting pain, alerting doctors to a problem.

After months of tests, testicular cancer was suspected and surgery was recommended to remove the testicle.

“At that stage, I was so convinced that it was not cancer that I cancelled the surgery on the day of the operation.

“Needless to say, my wife was not impressed.”

After a conversation with the pastor of his church, Mr Downey got another opinion, and by that time the tumour had doubled in size.

“Fortunately, they were able to remove it and things seemed to be OK,” he said.

However, a follow-up scan two months later found unusual lymph node activities and a series of biopsies revealed that Mr Downey had stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma – completely unrelated to his testicular cancer.

“Obviously, it had been in my body for some time, but it may not have been detected if not for those follow-up tests.

“So I guess you can say a kick in the privates saved my life.”

After extensive chemotherapy, Mr Downey received the all clear in June 2009.

“It was a great relief, but there was also the realisation of the toll it had taken on myself and Laura,” he said.

“There was also the fear that the treatment could have caused infertility.”

Fortunately, this has proven not to be the case, and the couple are now proud parents of four children – Levi (8), Ayiya (6), Micah (4) and Amelia (2).

“I feel very blessed.”

Looking back over his cancer journey, Mr Downey recalls having great support from friends and family, but feels his wife would have benefited from more support.

“And that will be my message at the Relay for Life – to care for the carers,” he said.

The survivors’ lap of the Otago Students Relay for Life is open to all survivors who wish to take part. For more information, email Tracey.Fleet@cansoc.org.nz