I’ve been putting off writing this article for some time because it’s something close to my heart. Passion is a great thing, but when it’s mixed with a great amount of love, loss and grief, it can interfere with your ability to present your perspective clear and logically. Dan’s story was all of the above for myself. Please excuse the explicit language but Dan wouldn’t have wanted me to filter it out. Here is my experience with Dan:
Dan was a genius and had a dark offensive sense of humor that I loved. He was completely detached from his ego but at the same time he had a self belief that borderlines on delusional. He didn’t have that filter that told him it wasn’t possible. I think to change the world the way Dan has, you need that delusional self belief. For myself, Dan was a best friend and someone who would always show up at the right time. Saying he was an inspiration is an understatement and something I never really say because I feel the word doesn’t do him justice. He is now an example of what is possible if you have an unwavering self belief and surround yourself with family and friends who will go to the end of the world for you.
How We Met
I met Dan on the first day I moved in to Wilson’s College for University in Lismore in 2009. He was mates with my new room mate and was hanging around my unit as I was unpacking. I walked in with my surf board and bags and Dan introduced himself and smirked at my surfboard. He was a westy from Tamworth and gave me stick about being a coasty straight away and that banter continued all the way into his days battling cancer when I would drive out to Tamworth to visit him in between treatments.
One day I had packed my car, had a surf at Coffs and drove out to Tamworth just before lunch and forgot to drop my surfboard back home. Dan met me at the front of his house, looking very thin and sick. He walked out to the car and I had to compose myself for a second before I got out and gave him the usual stick.
“Fuck you look horrendous. What have you been doing?” I started with. He ignored it and smirked and came around to the back of the car to help with my bags and spotted my surfboard in the back. Dammit.
“Lucky you brought your surfboard to Tamworth. Fucking coasty. So dumb” he replied. That night we had a few of his friends around for beers and every person he introduced me to he said “Rhen brought his surfboard out. He is cool hey”. Fucking smart arse!
I could go on all day reminiscing and telling stories like when Dan used to purposely grab our attention in Human Anatomy because he knew the teacher was about to talk about the penis or the rectum and we would laugh historically until we nearly vomited, but that doesn’t really stick to the message I want to get across about Dan’s battle.
The First Phone Call
In 2010 Dan called me just before Uni went back and said he wasn’t coming back to uni. I called him a sissy and said he had to come back, class wouldn’t be as fun without him and we were moving to Ballina to be closer to the surf so I could take his pale arse to the beach more. He went silent and then sort of gave an awkward laugh and said it wasn’t an option.
He said he’d been diagnosed with bowel cancer and the doctors said the outlook wasn’t good. I swore and then went silent myself. I didn’t believe it. He told me he didn’t plan on giving in and he would be back at uni but just planned on having a year to have treatment and kill it off. He was almost right too.
We stayed in touch and saw each other as often as we could. Despite the outlook and being told it wasn’t likely he’d live another year, Dan returned to uni the following year with his cancer in remission. The severity hadn’t sunk in as I had been in denial and had tried to distract myself with my own selfish life and just enjoy the time with Dan in ignorant bliss as often as I could. However, after a routine scan revealed the cancer was back just months later but had moved, the severity sunk in for myself.
Dan returned to Tamworth and again left uni and spent lots of time travelling to Sydney for treatment and also to Germany for a new promising treatment. We skyped when he was in Germany and I told him a few dad jokes and we always seemed to lift each others spirits. I visited him in Sydney with his amazingly supportive wife Alyce (That love story needs to be written into a frigging hollywod movie. It will make the notebook look like married at first sight), and we laughed until we cried. I always had him revved up and giddy when I left and I’m sorry Alyce if you had to deal with the aftermath! haha.
Despite the positive outlook and his determination, he was struggling and I could tell. He was struggling to keep weight on, he was always sick, and his enormous physical and mental potential and capacity was being unused and I could tell it was slowly killing his will.
The Marijuana Call
During one of our regular fortnightly phone conversations, Dan told me that he had been using marijuana to help with his treatment. I was baffled because he had always hated drug use and I knew his father Lou was an ex drug squad policemen. He’d been put on to it by a close friend and had been reading about the science behind it’s effectiveness in stopping nausea and helping appetite and weight gain during cancer treatment. I was stoked he seemed upbeat about it and that it was helping him eat and feel better.
The only issue was that this was illegal. However, he mentioned in the same phone conversation that he had been making great influential contacts and that he thought he could have a crack at getting it to be decriminalized for medical use. It was all a lot of information for me to take in and with my own crusade completing research to create new medicines for diabetes, I wasn’t sure if he was serious and didn’t think it was possible.
After that initial phone conversation, we never had a regular phone conversation again. We still made a little joke here and there but we never wasted time. He was crazily determined and had so many ideas and new stories about his cause. I loved it but at the same time I didn’t believe it would still happen.
Dan was the guy who played every instrument, could play all sports and still get a distinction average at uni, but this is fucking marijuana. Come on. With the way society is shoving its head so far up it’s own politically correct arse that you can’t even point out that religion is for brain dead morons, how are you going to get marijuana decriminalized?!
But he didn’t think that way, neither did his mother Lucy or anyone immediately around him. This was their boy and they had a mission. They stood by him and supported him to the end. Many people wouldn’t be able to. Also, many people underestimate how powerful unconditional love and support can be when you channel it for a good cause.
Dan lost his battle on the 24th of February 2015. It hit us all very hard. I was in denial for the 5 years he battled it and hadn’t completely been able to accept that it would happen. I didn’t leave my room for two days really and couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone face to face.
In a way his passing killed a lot of belief I had in dreaming big and trying to make a difference. Life isn’t a movie, it doesn’t end as scripted, but you always want to believe something great can happen. I was guttered.
Don’t Give Up
Fortunately, Dan’s mother Lucy’s faith didn’t pass with Dan. She battled on. I admire her beyond belief and thank her for doing so, as I’m sure everyone affected by this topic does.
On the one-year anniversary of Dan’s passing, Australian parliament passed laws allowing the cultivation of medical cannabis. This news was a miracle for sufferers of diseases such as terminal cancer, epilepsy and many more.
For a read that will give you goosebumps and to learn more about what this really means:
My Regret and Confession
I missed a call from Dan about 2 weeks before his passing. I was working on a paper for my PhD and I selfishly ignored his call. I was caught up in an unnecessary ego based project and couldn’t put my own issues aside for 5 minutes to talk to a best friend who was obviously in a lot of pain and reaching out for a distraction.
I messaged him on Valentines Day and apologized and told him I loved him and asked him to be my valentine in our usual cheeky tone. I didn’t receive a response. I thought he may have been receiving treatment and told myself I would ring him the following week knowing he may be feeling a bit better. I was wrong, he was physically unable to respond.
I regret ignoring that phone call. I regret not being more involved in Dan’s crusade and I regret not being able to say goodbye. But I know it had no impact on the course of his journey and that we will always be brothers.
What I Learnt From Dan’s Journey
Back yourself. It’s possible. If you have a vision and you believe you have the potential to create it, don’t lose it.
Everyone has one true calling. Genetically, we are all 0.5% individual. Unfortunately Dan’s 0.5% individuality meant he was more susceptible to bowel cancer and passing much earlier than was fair. But on a universal scale, Dan’s individuality meant he was able to change the world for many chronically ill people suffering from debilitating illness.
Thank you Dan for being a mate and for all you’ve done for myself and for every Australian who will now benefit from your crusade. We love you.