Imagine holding the same position for almost fifty years? And then imagine that position is one of the toughest and most mentally taxing professional disciplines on offer?
Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Keith Cox OAM, or ‘Saint Keith’ as Coop used to refer to him as, is a truly unique and wonderful individual by anybody’s standards, and for 48 years, he has provided untold hope, professionalism and guidance, throughout a cancer journey, for those who are afraid, alone, uncertain, and everything in between.
Dr Richard Boyle (L) Cooper Rice-Brading (Centre) Keith Cox OAM (R)
Photograph courtesy – Chris O’Brien Lifehouse
Oncology is a mentally challenging, tough, and often thankless specialty, and it serves to make Keith’s 48 years of dedication to making the lives of cancer patients bearable, truly extraordinary.
For those of you wondering what an oncology nursing practitioner is, Keith’s position was a highly specialised midway point between a doctor and a nurse, and as such, for those cancer patients who have been blessed to be under his care, his role was a critical one. It bridged the gap, and often for the patient, it was often the difference between a very good day and a very bad one. The stories about Keith’s willingness to smooth the rough waters for those patients blessed to have been assigned to his care, are so numerous, they would require a sizeable book to record them.
Cooper, a child anxious about what lay ahead, masked in a grown man’s 6 foot 2 physique, met Keith on day one at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and developed an immediate connection with him, as all patients did. This warm, calm, unassuming, gentle individual, remained with Coop throughout his treatment, and provided untold comfort during the particularly tough times, of which there were many. He and Coop joked about many things, debated treatment options, together with ‘best practice’ (Coop was often caught turning his drip rate up to suit his sporting schedule), and everything in between. Coop looked forward to the day when his treatment was over, and he could return as a volunteer for Keith, as he felt he had Keith’s role ‘covered’, and his contribution would be significant. Life as we know it, rarely goes as we plan.
I can only now, imagine how with the passing of each patient Keith has opened his heart to, has resulted in the great personal sense of loss he must feel for each, yet we often overlook this impact when we are immersed in grief ourselves. How difficult it must have been for him to face the families of the patients who do not make it out the other side? His attachment to each was obvious – it was never a case of just another patient. He has done this and so much more, for almost five decades, and has continuously found a way to make a difference in so many lives, and in so many different ways.
Asking Keith to join the CRBF Board, was a very easy decision. He embodies every quality we envisage our Board members will have, together with an intimate knowledge of what is required to truly make a difference in the lives of sarcoma patients everywhere. He was though, first and foremost, Coop’s great mate.
Keith, we wish you all the wonderful things life can bring now you are in retirement, and hopefully, you can finally find time to reflect on your outstanding contribution to the world of cancer, and it may even see you contmeplating the notion of finally putting yourself first – every now and again…
Watch Keith’s story as told by Carrie Bickmore, on The Project.
January 27, 2018
Every now and again, you will meet someone quite by chance, and they will have a huge impact on your day, and sometimes, your life. This was the case with Gail O’Brien, AO.
I remember a chance meeting very early in Cooper’s treatment, not long after Cooper became intent on raising money for sarcoma awareness and research, and to contribute as much as possible toward the inception of the Comprehensive Sarcoma Centre, within the world class facility that is Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. I had no idea at the time this would prove to be life changing.
I entered the room, and met this demure, quietly spoken, yet exceptionally warm lady, who I soon felt I had known for decades. Her day I suspected, was full, as Gail is in high demand within the confines of Lifehouse, and yet she had quite unexpectedly put aside time to meet with me to discuss ideas for Cooper’s Foundation launch. It is important to point out that fundraising is not officially one of the many hats Gail wears within the auspices of the hospital, and yet there she was, providing her complete and undivided attention, and offering untold co-operation and guidance. I left that meeting with a sense of calm, which I had not felt in some time. Not only did she offer assistance with the function, Gail causally offered her time for a chat if I felt overwhelmed over the time ahead. Cooper’s diagnosis had left our family reeling, and I often felt I was living in a bubble, and very disconnected from the outside world, so to have someone who truly understood that feeling, provided an unexpected peace of mind.
Gail forged a lovely, and very significant friendship with Cooper, whom she would pop in to visit, when she knew he was an inpatient, and in turn, Coop developed a strong fondness and admiration for her. She was one of the few people outside his medical staff, he allowed to see him as his cancer progressed. When his inaugural dinner was imminent, he insisted I arrange to have her address his guests, as in his words, “Gail really gets it mum…” That was sadly the case. Gail had not only suffered the heartbreak of losing her beloved husband, but had also suffered the unimaginable loss of her eldest son Adam, two years after.
Despite her own enormous adversities, the grace in which Gail continues to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients, is something to behold. She is humble, yet strong, and is, put very simply, a force of nature. For the better part, she flies under the radar, and does not seek notoriety for the work she does – she just does what needs to be done. She has more energy than anyone I know. I have often received emails from her very late at night, when I know she has been working at the hospital all day, and beyond. She has time for everyone, and has perfected the fine art of listening. The formal list of achievements which led to her receiving this award, I suspect do not even touch the surface of the things she does for others in need, outside her capacity at Lifehouse.
Gail, we could not be happier to hear of your award – Officer of the Order of Australia. I know this is not what you aspire to, but from the outside looking in, it is so heartening to see those presiding over these awards, absolutely got it right this year. Cooper would have been as delighted as we are to see this acknowledgement of the decades of work you have dedicated to cancer patients, together with your beautiful smile, and your lovely manner. The world needs more people just like you…
January 6, 2018
Using your currency wisely…
December, 2004, saw two cricket obsessed five and eight year olds, transfixed to the television, watching Australia’s Glenn McGrath, tear through the Pakistan batting line up in Perth, finishing with a career best 8/24 off sixteen overs. For those of you who know nothing of cricket, an eight- wicket haul is something every bowler dreams of, but rarely achieves, much less at Test level. It is akin to winning, the Melbourne Cup, the Sydney to Hobart or the Australian open. It takes huge talent, courage, an enormous heart, and a touch of mongrel to do so.
During commercial breaks, there would be the mimicking of each wicket taken, in our lounge, and my incessant nagging about taking the game outside. Coop would practice his “air bowling” and after careful analysis, adopting every finite move of the cricketer he idolised. The moment the game was over, it would be straight to the nets, to practice with a tennis ball. His brother, a willing and very able participant with the bat, and an accomplished leg spin bowler.
The boys would spend hours honing their self- taught techniques, while Coop continued to mimic Glenn Mcgrath, and Mitch, Shane Warne, to the point where a number of Masters in his first year at Sydney Grammar, who did not know him by any other name than Warnie. The boys would find any excuse to play in our back garden, the laneway, or the nets at the local school, wherever there was a space – the bat and ball would emerge. Coop was annoyed he was deemed too young for a team at six, but eventually burst onto the scene playing local club cricket aged eight. This had given him two years to analyse and mimic the bowling style of his idol, and he embraced the challenge.
Coop’s first game caused one of the cricket tragic dads on the sidelines, whilst watching Coop deliver his first few balls, to remark…”I think we have just discovered our next McGrath”… Possibly the highest order of compliment to Coop at the time. Needless to say, after a succession coaches had moulded his style in later years, his likeness to his hero changed dramatically, but for a brief moment in time, he dared to dream.
Fast forward four years, and Cooper had been given the unexpected honour to captain the Scots College prep 1st X1. His first fixture resulted in the revelation his idol had returned to the game, only this time as a school cricket dad. The ensuing nerves when he was around, proved to be problematic for Coop. Glenn would not have even noticed the uncharacteristically nervous young boy, as he treated all the boys in the same understated manner, and seemed to understand the impetus he had on each.
Last year, when Coop was struggling with the side effects and the endless disappointments attached to his treatment, he quite unexpectedly received an email from Cricket Australia, and attached were two videos, one from Glenn, and the other from Steve Waugh. Cooper had trialled at representative and state level with Steve’s son Austin who has gone on to become a force to be reckoned with as a national u19’s cricketer. I am certain neither dad would remember the gesture, nor had they remembered Coop, yet both had taken the time to record a special message for him, a message that would elicit joy at one of his lowest points. This gesture was completely unsolicited, and put simply, a very pure gesture by both, and one that brought a smile to Coop’s face when reasons to smiles were few and far between.
I have learned so much from my son over the past years – we all did. We learned from his ever present humility and the grace during times of extreme adversity, and we learned from the way in which chose to help others by the inception of his Foundation, especially when his work would be unlikely to change his trajectory in any way. Cooper chose to use his currency wisely. He chose to rise above the feelings of uncertainty, angst and fear, which went hand in hand with his cancer, and attempted instead, to make his very brief life count. In doing so, he unwittingly began to once more, follow in the steps of his cricket idol. Glenn and his equally impressive family, have used their currency wisely for many years, having risen above the grief, the adversity and the tough times, and have made the world a better place for those walking the path of the inspirational Jane Mcgrath.
As our family is left to contemplate life each day without our precious son and brother, together with the void his absence has left in our lives, it is always good to look at those, such as the Mcgrath family, and what they have managed to achieved for the greater good, rising above all else.
Congratulations on your ten-year anniversary today. The team at CRBF are greatly inspired by your work, and your success. We aspire to significantly improve the lives of young sarcoma patients over the next ten years, as you have done for those suffering from breast cancer.
Photo courtesy of The Telegraph