The ball carriers at Tactix home games this season will remember those with melanoma - the first is coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek's father, John, writes Merryn Anderson.
For the first time in Marianne Delaney-Hoshek’s netball coaching career, her phone was silent after a game.
The coach of the Mainland Tactix had led her team to a 55-49 win over the Stars on Monday, starting their ANZ Premiership season strong.
But she wishes her dad, John Delaney, could have seen it. He passed away in October last year, after living for 13 years with skin cancer.
A sports coach himself, Delaney would call his daughter after every netball match, and give her advice - mainly things to work on, even after a win like on Monday.
“I’m sure he would have seen a few things wrong with it,” Delaney-Hoshek manages to laugh through tears.
She will be thinking of him on Sunday when her two sons, Zac (13) and Sam (11), carry the ball out onto the court to start the Tactix home game against the Mystics - in memory of their grandad.
All of the Tactix home games this season will feature ball deliverers who are family members of people who have passed from melanoma, are survivors of melanoma or who are living with it.
Delaney, who was a policeman, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma - a form of skin cancer - in 2009, after discovering a tumour above his ear. He had an operation to remove his ear and a significant amount of his head.
“At the time, they said they couldn’t get all the cancer and they only gave him three to six months to live,” recalls Delaney-Hoshek. Her son, Zac, was just months old at the time.
But her dad managed to beat the odds and watch Delaney-Hoshek’s two sons grow and start playing sports themselves.
“We’ve been so lucky, so grateful that we’ve had all that time with him,” Delaney-Hoshek says.
“My two boys had a relationship with him. Even though it’s obviously a sad story, there’s some great parts to it as well.”
Both boys are now at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch, and are keen rugby players, following their grandad at the Linwood Rugby Club. Their uncle, Glenn Delaney, has an impressive rugby background too - the former Canterbury men's coach is now coaching professionally in Japan.
“My boys had that special relationship with Dad around rugby. He would ring them after all their sports and they would report in,” says Delaney-Hoshek.
The boys called their grandad 'JD' and loved his sense of humour, picking up phrases and words from him to use in their sports. John and his wife, Anne, would often look after Zac and Sam while Delaney-Hoshek was busy with netball; Anne also looking after John as his cancer progressed.
“She was crucial to him in terms of pretty much being his extra nurse for all those years as well. It was a pretty tough job but she did amazing,” Delaney-Hoshek says of her mum.
Around two years ago, Delaney was diagnosed with melanoma during a routine skin check. A tumour on his neck spread to his liver, and he passed away in hospice care on October 5.
Melanoma NZ doesn't receive government funding, and relies on donors, sponsors and grants. Founding patron Lynn Stratford has sponsored the ball delivery partnership with the Tactix this season, allowing them to raise awareness through netball.
Andrea Newland, chief executive of Melanoma New Zealand, says it’s important to know the signs of skin cancer.
“Most skin cancers are preventable, and if recognised and treated early enough, melanoma is almost always curable,” she says.
More than 6000 people are diagnosed with melanoma in New Zealand every year and around 300 people die from it.
“At an individual level, it's good for people to understand if they have any melanoma risk factors,” Newland says. “It is important to regularly check their skin and know what they should be looking for so they can have any suspicious spots or lesions checked promptly by a health professional.
“Melanoma New Zealand works hard to raise awareness about the dangers of UV radiation, the importance of prevention and early detection."
They also provide support to patients and their whānau, and have free skin cancer spot checks in the community through their Spot Check van.
Delaney-Hoshek believes her dad’s positive attitude was one of the key reasons he outlived his initial prognosis by so long.
“That whole mindset you can apply to what we do in netball as well,” Delaney-Hoshek says.
“He was also quite radical - like he took every surgery, treatment, radiation possible so he just went with it. He had an amazing surgeon called Sally Langley here in Christchurch, and she and the team did an amazing job to keep him going for that long.”
Delaney was a policeman, in the armed offenders and the anti-terrorist squad, and set quite high standards for Delaney-Hoshek and her siblings.
“He was a little bit of a hard bugger and lots of people found him quite scary to start with,” Delaney-Hoshek remembers. “Feedback for sport was often quite critical but coming from a good place.
“But everyone, as soon as they got to know him, were all really drawn to him. He was a real people person.”
The Tactix take on the Mystics at 4pm on Sunday at Christchurch Arena, or watch live on Sky Sport 2.
*Visit www.melanoma.org.nz for more information on how to regularly check your skin. Visit your GP or a dermatologist, surgeon or plastic surgeon without delay if you have a spot you are concerned about.