“Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma of the bone” – the words hung in the air

Frank treatment day
Frank and Lucy - last day treamtment
Frank and Olympic team

Frank Hegerty

Frank is a former Australian rower, National Champion and a dual Olympian. This is his patient story…

Like many retired athletes I have had my fair share of ailments and injuries as I branched out into new sporting pursuits and life. My desire to push my body and redefine my limits never stopped. One of the most challenging things I found once retired was managing without the readily available medical support I had become accustomed to.

I am extremely lucky that my wife is a doctor and has been the voice of reason throughout my retirement – reminding me that training through the injury would not fix it and that ignoring pains whether they be new or old was counterproductive. She helped connect me with the appropriate medical teams and urged me to develop a strong relationship with a GP.

Leading up to my diagnosis, I had experienced months of back pain due to an acute annular tear. As part of this, I had developed new pain, in my knee. However, as time progressed, my knee pain changed – it became the predominant site of pain, worse at night and unrelenting at times.

I had been self-managing this – it was COVID lockdown, we had moved to a new house, I had changed jobs, and our third child had just been born. I didn’t have time to see the GP or prioritise my health. I didn’t have time to be sick. Then one day, my knee became swollen, prompting me to undergo investigations.

On the eve of my birthday, I received the most difficult news – the pain in my knee wasn’t from my back, nor a flare of an old injury – it was in fact a 10cm cancerous tumour. From there, I entered a whirlwind of specialist appointments, scans and biopsies. The following 10 days were the longest days of my life, as I waited to hear my fate.

“Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma of the bone” – the words hung in the air.

I had been told to hope for this – that lymphoma was the best possible outcome.

I began chemo a week later and have started the road to cure. Whilst this is never the news you want to hear, I feel fortunate that the odds are in my favour, that the cancer was caught at an early stage and that this disease can be cured.

During this period, I have been truly humbled and overwhelmed by the love and support that we have received. We often talk in rowing of how powerful our sport is as the ultimate team sport and through this period I was reminded of this once again – together we are always stronger. I would like to thank you all for your ongoing words of encouragement and support. My brother completed a 400km run during October 2020 and raised over $10,000 in my honour to raise money for a lymphoma charity of my choosing – Lymphoma Australia. I am very lucky that I have an amazing group of people in my corner, and we hope to support others going through this journey who may not be as fortunate as me.

There will come a time to reflect, but at the moment I am focussed on my treatment and my family. However, I would like to urge my fellow rowers, family and friends – please remain vigilant with your health. Take steps to look into niggles and ailments and form a relationship with your GP. We are not always bulletproof.

Frank Hegerty – Rower Number 693
Lymphoma Australia is pleased to welcome Frank as an Ambassador for our charity. Frank will be getting his Legs Out for Lymphoma this March – and we encourage you to join us!
For more information and to sign up – www.lymphoma.org.au/get-involved/legs-out-for-lymphoma

*Frank’s story was first shared in the Australian Rowing Team Alumni Newsletter, Easy Oar, October 2020.

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