Report: JEFF STEPHENSON
CLAY Cameron will barely hear the cheers of support when he runs out onto Metricon Stadium against Gold Coast on Saturday to resume a career that was to all intents and purposes snapped asunder following him being diagnosed with testicular cancer just shy of four short months ago.
Instead, he’ll be in a state of euphoria. He may even be floating a little after all he has been through.
The pats on the back and best wishes from teammates, coaches and support staff will be received with the humility that is symbolic of the Redland Bombers star forward.
They’ll be flashbacks of the bad times – particularly the rough 20-day period when he underwent intense chemotherapy – a decision he put upon himself to “get it done”. “It was full-on,” Clay recalled this week.
“It was high intensity stuff. The chemo treatment was two cycles that went for six weeks and I was at the hospital for around 20 days for five hours at a time.” It was hard and tough to take and made him seriously sick as his body reacted to the treatment.
But like most things that have confronted him these past few months, Clay has faced each challenge, each stumbling block, each piece of good and bad news with the same stoic conviction.
Just like confronting a new match – another half – the next quarter, Clay has worked to overcome issues that would most likely tip the rest of us over the top.
Even his attitude towards his cancer is bold – he was never going to let it defeat him. “Yeah, it was a bit frustrating obviously, but I just attacked it as a short period of my life that I had to go through. “It’s one of those things that seems to affect the people around you just as much, if not more than you.“I myself, just slept and tried not to be too grumpy or ask for too much.”
That, in a nutshell, is emblematic of how Clay has handled the illness that threatened him so severely. Worried for himself, for sure, but thinking about others.
As a recently-turned 24-year-old, Clay was not prepared for what life was to throw at him – well, what young men are? He’d had a great 2017 and was looking to this year with supreme confidence.
Selection in the 2017 NEAFL Team of the Year, winner of the NEAFL Mark of the Year and runner-up in Redland’s best and fairest were honours he accumulated in a fantastic first year with the Bombers.
The pre-season had gone well enough and Clay was into the final stages of a tough and challenging bonding camp at the Enoggera Army Barracks back in February when he “started to feel a bit sore”.
“It was a bit of a worry for a couple of days and then my partner (Jemma) suggested we should get it checked.
“I went to the doctor, he referred me to a specialist and the next thing I knew I was having an operation. “It was pretty quick.
Then came the chemo treatment.
“The whole episode seemed to go on for ages but looking back, it’s really all gone pretty quickly.
“And it wasn’t related to the camp either – it’s just one of those things.”
When Clay was unable to attend the Bombers’ jumper presentation before the opening match of the 2018 season a video of him being presented with his a few days earlier was shown to teammates and supporters.
The illness and the understanding of what he was going though certainly shattered many of us, but the club continued with its encouragement – to Clay – and to the many people offering support and best wishes.
The playing group made a determined effort to be at Clay’s side as he fought his way back to health.
“I’m a no-fuss sort of guy – I don’t like too much being focused on me.
“But the support from the club and from the players was really good.
“It wasn’t over the top and that meant a lot.”
As the recovery process hit top gear, Clay started running – that was on May 28 – and it was tough going, but the next time it was that little bit easier as was the next and before he knew it he was rattling off some handy sessions.
“It was hard there for awhile and for a time I was wondering what I was doing and why I was doing it.
“Now it’s feeling okay and I’ve really improved my fitness dramatically in the last month.
“It’s (his fitness) obviously not where it normally is in the middle of the season, but I knew I was getting to the stage where it would soon be okay for me to play.
“I’ve looked at it as though it’s been a 10-month injury – I haven’t played since late August last year – but I’ve been back joining in with training and feel right to go again.”
Will he be nervous on his return?
“I’m a more mature player and person now than when I was younger, and the nerves normally go by the time I run out.
“The past four months or so will all be a blur that I’ll forget about for three hours.
“But, yes, there will be nerves, but there’ll be confidence too.”
The former Gold Coast Suns defender has been the Redland runner these past few weeks delivering messages to his teammates and has enjoyed it because of his analytical approach to the game.
But running messages is one thing – playing another.
“I’m not a great watcher as I feel like I’m always yelling out and making a gig of myself.
“Playing is easier.”
Clay is humbled and obviously appreciative of those who have supported him – particularly Jemma.
“She’s had a fair bit to deal with like all the ups and downs and the grumpiness and the slackness like not keeping the house neat and tidy.”
All that, however, is now behind him.
Jemma will be there supporting her man to the hilt, as will other members of his family, when he makes his return and there will be many more offering their encouragement besides.
It’s always said these issues put things in perspective.
They certainly do.
Winning at sport is not essential.
Winning at life is – and that’s a given.