By GARRY HOWE
BRAD Waterhouse is coming off the year from hell, yet considers himself one of the luckiest men alive.
That’s because he is alive.
The former Maryknoll Fire Brigade Captain spent most of 2015 battling bowel cancer and knows full well he beat the odds last month when told he was in remission.
“When I was diagnosed they told me not to Google stage four bowel cancer,” he recalled. “Of course I did and found out that only eight percent of people diagnosed make it past five years. That’s only eight people in 100, so I do realise how lucky I am.”
The cancer experience of his friend and CFA colleague Phil Edwards reinforces that thinking.
Brad fell ill around New Year’s Eve; Phil was diagnosed just before Christmas last year. When Brad went into rehab, Phil was in palliative care.
Brad responded well to treatment and was getting good news all the way through, unlike his mate.
“We spent a lot of time together throughout the journey,” Brad said. “Everything I had seemed to work, but everything Phil had was not working. While I was getting better, he was getting worse.”
Phil, a member of the Bunyip brigade, died in May at only 58.
The day of his funeral, Brad had surgery on his liver to cut out a tumour that was no longer cancerous.
It was another fortunate turn in events – the fact cancer had left the liver – but Brad considers it his lowest point.
“The fact that I couldn’t go to Phil’s funeral was very frustrating,” he said.
In a long interview with the Gazette about his journey, Brad’s voice broke with emotion twice – once when speaking about Phil and the other when his wife Peta came into the conversation.
“Gee she’s tough,” he said through tears.
Because Brad was self-employed and could no longer work, Peta had to step up her relief teaching rounds while still looking after their children Bethany, 12, and Hannah, 9.
Then there was the fire brigade.
When Brad was captain a few years back, Peta was his lieutenant.
During the Black Saturday fires Brad commanded a crew in the thick of the action far too close to home. He started having flashbacks and nightmares and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He stood down as captain and Peta took over. She still holds the job.
“I don’t know how she has coped with everything this year. She is a pretty amazing woman.”
Brad and Peta said they had to press the ‘pause’ button on their lives this year, but that the kids coped well with the ordeal.
“It’s easy to stay positive when all the news I was getting was good,” Brad explained. “We could be open with the kids, which would have been harder if it had been bad news.”
Brad and Peta met through mutual friends. He was born and bred in Pakenham and she was related to the Ahern family. They moved to Maryknoll 16 years ago and quickly took to the tight-knit community.
On pretty much their first day in town, Rob Mackie drove past while Brad was working on the driveway and suggested he join the fire brigade.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” he said.
When Brad returned home from hospital for the first time back in February, he was greeted by the sight of the fire truck surrounded by townsfolk with a big ‘Welcome Home’ sign.
In April, hundreds gathered at the local recreation reserve to watch as 26 people had their heads shaved in a show of support – an event that also kicked about $30,000 in to the family coffers.
“The shave day was amazing,” Brad said. “That money helped get us through the year, but it was about more than that – it was about a show of support. It was a real psychological boost at the time.”
The 400-strong crowd was made up primarily of Maryknollers and firefighters, two groups Brad describes as an extended family.
Of the latter, Brad said at the time: “They are people who get out of bed at two in the morning to look after people they don’t know – so they certainly look after people they do know.”
While he was in hospital, good mates Dave Whittey, Phil Martin and Mick Cramer commandeered his truck and gave it a make-over.
“The old truck has never looked so good,” he said.
Even in hospital, Brad had Maryknoll people looking after him, with Fiona Missen and Shireen Taylor among the nursing staff.
Being a firefighter, Brad has always been aware of his own mortality. He says having a sense of that makes you a better person, more inclined to seize the day.
Asked how he had changed over the past year, he said it had helped shift his priorities.
“I used to work all the time, I always put work first,” he said. “Now it isn’t that important. I value family and friends more. You never know how long you have got with them.”
Always active, Brad found hitting that pause button this year pretty frustrating.
“I have always liked being involved in things and all of a sudden I couldn’t,” he explained. “I was supposed to provide and look after the family, and I couldn’t do that either. That was pretty hard to handle.”
Brad has ticked a couple of big boxes in the last week towards his return to a normal life, securing a job driving a water cart with Colin Munns at MPG and getting the nod to go operational again with the fire brigade.
“I am just looking forward to getting back to work to earn a bit of money and get back on that red truck,” he smiled.