By Russell Bennett
Falling down the stairs at the Pakenham Football Club could well have saved Joey Lenders’ life.
The local footy icon made a fearsome reputation as a ferocious competitor across a 399-game playing career and four premiership victories as coach for the likes of Garfield, Cora Lynn, Pakenham, Nar Nar Goon, St Francis Xavier, and the old West Gippsland interleague side.
But it’s been off the field over the past 12 months where Joey has fought his biggest battle – his fight with prostate cancer.
It was at the Cardinia Casey Biggest Ever Blokes Lunch at the Cardinia Cultural Centre on Friday that he opened up to a room full of men – some he’s known for decades, others he’s never met – about how a fall down the stairs at Toomuc Reserve ultimately led to his cancer diagnosis.
There was an earlier indicator that not all was right with one of footy’s most ruthless men.
At a check-up roughly five years prior he registered a prostate specific antigen (PSA) reading that, in hindsight, he would have followed up more closely.
After his fall about a year ago at Toomuc Reserve, both of his knees swelled up, and subsequent blood tests revealed his particularly high PSA.
“It was a bit of a shock,” he told the 500-strong crowd.
“I hadn’t had any symptoms – nothing at all, no problems.”
Since then the 63-year-old has had extensive radiation treatments and a recent test has revealed that his PSA has dropped back to near-normal levels.
“It’s been a bit of a battle,” he admitted.
“It’s been a real shock to the system.”
He then delivered a message with the potential to save lives.
“Get tested,” he said.
“It’s not a life sentence.”
Joey returned to work after his diagnosis to try and maintain a degree of normality.
During his treatment in hospital he’d seen a number of patients his age who instead “sat at home watching TV and ignoring their wives”.
“I went to work and I spoke about it to all of my colleagues and friends – I was open about it,” he said.
“A lot of guys don’t talk to each other enough.
“We’re all tough blokes and we don’t get into sickness or love or anything like that, but I’d encourage you to do it.
“It helped me talking with everybody and it really brings it out into the fore. Some things hit you, so talk to your mates about it.
“It was a bit of a tough time to be alive but I’ve come through it alright. It’s not a life sentence.”
Joey was interviewed by his old interleague mate and Bass MP Brian Paynter, which followed addresses by Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia Victorian chief executive John Strachan and St John of God urologist Dr Tony De Sousa.
Cardinia Casey Biggest Ever Blokes lunch chairman Garry Howe said the event looked like raising in the vicinity of $100,000 again this year, most of which will be ploughed into research and awareness initiatives in the battle against prostate cancer.
He said the lunch was not just about raising money, though. It was equally important to implore the blokes to get checked by their doctor.
“I thought it was sensational for Joey to come forward to tell his story,” Mr Howe said.
“It might help save someone’s life.”