’I’ve got a one-in-three chance’ - Tommy
TOMMY Raudonikis will spend the next two weekends traipsing across the countryside to visit the children and grandchildren he adores.
Then, come the first Monday in February, the rugby league legend and his devoted partner will head up the M1 to tackle an enemy he has already battled twice before - cancer.
"We've got a pretty hard road ahead of us but we're all prepared," the 67-year-old says of facing five weeks of radiation and chemotherapy in a bid to defy cancer of lymph nodes in the neck.
"The (surgeon) in Sydney virtually gave me a one-in-three chance of survival but that's better than him saying 'Get your affairs in order'.
"There's no use sitting here feeling sorry for myself … it's just something I've got to accept and if the treatment doesn't work, we'll have to look at where I go from there.
"Whichever way it goes, I'm ready for it."
Raudonikis, who moved to the Gold Coast after playing 24 games for NSW and 20 Tests for Australia, was operated on in Sydney last month but the surgeon was unable to remove all the cancerous tissue.
Now, in his first in-depth interview since the diagnosis, the league larrikin opens up about his previous life-and-death battles, the pain of losing his son to cancer last year and how important family is in a time of crisis.
"It hasn't been easy but my partner Trish has been terrific," he says.
"Family is my strength."
A LONG ROAD
Raudonikis's first bout with cancer unfolded more than 30 years ago and made headlines not only because of who he was but where the disease was located.
"You only need one ball to play football," the cheeky halfback said after a successful operation to treat testicular cancer.
Since then he has survived cancer of the throat, undergone a quadruple heart bypass 11 years ago and in recent years endured back pain that had him headed for surgery until tests revealed cancer had returned to his body.
Having decided to be treated in Brisbane, doctors last week told Raudonikis he will need to travel north each day for radiation and chemotherapy and he well knows what that means.
"It's going to knock me around," he says. "This is my third run-in with cancer … and it's going to be pretty full-on.
"When I had cancer on my vocal cords, (the treatment) hits you hard but if you don't get it, you're (expletive) anyway."
Raudonikis has another memory that also makes him count his blessings.
"The first time, when I had testicular cancer in the late 1980s, I remember getting my radiation and seeing all the kids in there getting it as well," he says.
"Going into those places makes you realise a lot of people have hurdles to overcome and battles to fight.
"It's a bit of a journey - and not a real (expletive) good one - but you've got to remember there's a lot of people worse off than me."
HEARTACHE AND HOPE
Life has not been kind to Raudonikis in recent years.
As well as his own health battles, he endured the tragedy of losing a grandchild to the sport he loved in 2013 when 15-year-old Jake Kedzlie, his daughter's boy, suffered fatal head injuries when he collided with an opponent's knee during a rugby league clash near Coffs Harbour.
Then, last year, Raudonikis shed tears again when his son Simon succumbed to cancer. He was only 41.
"It's been a hard few years but again what do you say? Poor (expletive) Tommy?" he says.
"In life you've just got to deal with the cards you're dealt … and I think some people need to learn that.
"I honestly believe our younger people - footballers and the rest - cannot handle adversity. Any little thing happens and they crumble. It's very sad. Our generation was a lot different, tougher."
As Raudonikis counts down the days to his cancer treatment, he is embracing the chance to catch up with a few younger people, albeit those he's most fond of.
This weekend he's off to Sawtell, south of Coffs Harbour, to visit daughter Corynn and her children. A week later it will be the family of son Lincoln a bit closer to home.
"He lives at Ballina and we're going fishing off Evans Head," Raudonikis says before touching on a subject he's famous for.
"I'll get on the drink with him down there and we'll probably run into a few blokes as well."
Then, with such precious memories locked away, it'll be back to the Paradise Point home he shares with the woman he loves and who will be beside him every step of the way.
"Trish has been absolutely wonderful with what she's done for me," he says. "We're in this together."
TOMMY ON ...
Smoking: "The doctors haven't really blamed smoking but I know within myself it's the cause of all these cancers and the bypass. I know for a fact. I started smoking when I was 30 and smoked three packets of a day. I quit in 2000 and if I hadn't, I would have died years ago. Thank God I stopped."
Fighting on: "Every morning I still go across to the Broadwater (enclosure) for a swim. I can't swim that good because I had an operation on my left shoulder, but I'll either swim or walk a few laps and then have a coffee. I take my little cups to get hot water from the machine, sit down and a few people will come over to say g'day."
Mateship: "The football world has been great to me. I started playing in Sydney in 1969 so I had a lot of years and made a lot of friends. They've been great and blokes like (colourful businessman) John Singleton have been fantastic."