The love and courage inspiring Joe Ofahengaue
Through immense personal pain Joe Ofahengaue has learned the inspiring power of family, love and courage in adversity.
The Brisbane Broncos forward's partner Sofi Leota was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and made the brave decision to have her right breast removed earlier this month.
The way she faced up that ordeal at the age of just 23 continues to drive Ofahengaue to be a better man and footballer.
"To have breast cancer at her age, you can't imagine it," Ofahenague told NRL.com.
"I didn't imagine anything like this would happen to her and the way she is handling it is inspirational to me and everyone around her.
"Every day she treats as normal. She doesn't treat it as too serious or life threatening. That inspires me to do my best at what I do every day and come home happy, and happy for her."
Life was moving along as normal for Ofahengaue and his partner when their world was rocked by an unwelcomed discovery.
They both realised quick action was required.
"We were at home one day and she complained about her right breast being sore, and then we found a lump," Ofahengaue said.
"I told her to get it checked by the doctors. The doctor wasn't too sure and got a few blood tests done and the tumour came back cancer positive."
A few days later a big decision had to be made. Joe and Sofi sat down with her parents John and Brooke in hospital. Joe said it was an emotional time but through the initial tears Sofi decided to have a mastectomy to remove a tumour and lymph nodes for grade three invasive cancer.
"She had to decide whether to get chemotherapy and hopefully shrink the tumour or get the whole breast taken out," Ofahengaue said.
"My missus, being as strong as she is, didn't think twice. She knew the best thing was to get rid of the whole breast. She was so brave. It was a big decision to make and the way she has handled it is amazing and has amazed everyone around her.
"Sofi thought that if it is going to save her life, she had to get rid of it. That has been her whole attitude, whatever it takes to get herself better again she will do that.
"She hasn't looked back or regretted anything and I'm really proud of her.
"It is only the beginning of her journey. She will have about six months of chemo to flush out any cancer cells they have missed. I guess all she can do is stay strong, keep fighting and hopefully everything goes well."
Sofi had surgery early in the week before the Broncos played the Canterbury Bulldogs. Ofahengaue missed training to be by her side but was on hand for the captain's run. In the game he scored a powerhouse try to level the scores late on and then dedicated the four-pointer to his partner.
"I was real pumped," he said.
"I knew she would be watching so I looked for the camera to blow her a kiss. She was at home at that stage. She'd told me she'd be watching the game and I told her I would do my best to get a try for her. She was real excited and was texting me straight after the game."
The whole experience, while gruelling, has made Ofahengaue a better man and his own growth and maturity for a 23-year-old is plain to see.
"It makes me think that you never know what is going to happen tomorrow. It was a big eye opener for all of us but you just count your blessings," he said.
"So far everything has gone to plan but it is a fight I can't fight. The best thing I can do is stay mentally strong for her.
"If I show weakness then Sofi will notice that and things wouldn't go well for her, so me staying positive and feeding her positive vibes is helping her a lot.
"We've got a lot of family and everyone is staying real positive and showing us a lot of love and we are very grateful for that."
Ofahengaue has been a colossus for the Broncos through his partner's difficult times and the Tongan international's form has him right in the frame for selection for the Queensland Maroons.
"I did a few good things last year and I am happy with the way I am developing this year off the back of that," he said.
"I had a chat to Kevin Walters this year and he asked me if I was just playing for Tonga this year and I said I am here to play for both Queensland and Tonga.
"I am only thinking about Tonga right now but I'd love to play for Queensland. It is a dream I've had since I was a kid."
Ofahengaue won the Channel Nine man of the match award for his performance against the Sydney Roosters on Friday night and donated it to a breast cancer charity.
It was a gesture that summed up what is foremost in his mind right now.
Ofahengaue, the son of Josh and Kathy and nephew of former Wallabies star Willie Ofahengaue, is one of six children and a member of a large extended family that is very close.
In the loungeroom of his family home in the Ipswich suburb of Collingwood Park, where his sister now lives, there are words up on the wall in big letters that say 'family, where life begins and love never ends'.
They are not just words. They sum up the support both Joe and Sofi have had, and will continue to receive through testing times ahead.
"We are a real big, loving family and we always have each other's backs," Ofahengaue said.
"Sofi has come to realise that. My family will always be here for her. I will make sure it stays that way."
Sofi's resilience and courage is a story big Joe intends to be telling those he loves in years to come. He is optimistic it will be an inspirational tale.
"I know I am playing for something bigger now, bigger than just myself," Ofahengaue said.
"I am playing for our future and hopefully when we have kids I can tell them about how their mum inspired me. Hopefully I can tell them a good story."