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Eels’ CEO shares lymphoma battle ahead of Mannah charity walk

From the boardroom to the footy field, being the CEO of an NRL Club has its fair share of challenges.

Curve balls most would never see coming.

But for Parramatta Eels’ CEO Jim Sarantinos, he has faced tougher battles in his private life having been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 33 in 2014.

The news hit him like a bullet train and his world spun into unfamiliar, scary territory.

“It came as a pretty big surprise,” Sarantinos said.

“I came home one day from work and went to pick up my six week old son and I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t carry the weight.

“I felt these stabbing pains in my stomach and I knew at that point that something was really wrong,” he said.

He went for emergency scans and got a ring from his GP almost immediately.

“The GP was in tears and said you have to come in,” Sarantinos said.

“They found two 10-centimetre tumours in my stomach and they knew immediately that it was some form of cancer.”

Sarantinos had to wait an agonising four days before seeing a specialist to get any sense of the extent of the battle he was facing.

“Thoughts go racing through your head,” he said.

“How severe is it? How aggressive is it? What type of cancer is it?

“I had a six-week-old baby, a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and my wife.

“All the thoughts go racing through your head. Are you going to be around for them? How are they going to cope without you?  Those few days of just not knowing were probably the toughest” he said.

Scans later revealed the Lymphoma thankfully hadn’t spread to other parts of his body and it was treatable.

“It (the prognosis) was almost a bit of a blessing to know yeah you’re in for a bit of a s*** time but you’re more than likely going to come out the other side which unfortunately not everyone does,” Sarantinos said.

They couldn’t operate or do radiotherapy; aggressive chemotherapy was the only option.

“I went through pretty aggressive chemo for a 12-month period and then went on a chemo maintenance program for another 18 months,” he said.

Remarkably, Sarantinos continued to work as a partner at an accounting and advisory firm throughout the treatment.

It was 10 days on, 10 days off in between treatments.

“Vicki (wife) was great, she’s pretty tough and resilient, and she was very supportive of me, but yeah it was a struggle for her as well having a newborn baby and a two-and-a-half-year-old as well,” he said.

“I went through some pretty wild mood swings. That was probably the biggest side effect for me.

“I had to take steroids every day to counter the chemo and at times my mood swings were pretty dramatic.

“To the point where I would tell Vicki and the kids to leave.  There were times were I just didn’t know how I was going to react” he said.

Three years later in April 2017 Sarantinos was given the all-clear and told to get on with his life as best as possible.

“I’ll never be cured, but I’m in remission. There’s every chance it comes back again, I just try to put it to the back of my mind as best I can,” he said.

Tomorrow morning a group of former players and officials from the Parramatta Eels and Cronulla Sharks will set off on a 35-kilometre walk raising funds for Lymphoma Australia.

The walk is in honour of Johnny Mannah, who lost his battle with the disease in 2013 at the age of 23 after representing both Clubs.

It starts at CommBank Stadium and finishes at PointBet Stadium where both teams will battle for the Johnny Mannah Cup on Saturday afternoon.

The goal is to raise $100,000, which will allow Lymphoma Australia to appoint the first ever national nurse for young patients.

Sarantinos will be joined by Eels legend and Johnny’s brother Tim Mannah, Sharks CEO Dino Mezzatesta and a raft of other former NRL stars.

“I never got the chance to meet Johnny, but it’s obviously a cause that’s close to my heart. I probably took for granted at the time the support the nurses provided me during my treatment,” Sarantinos said.

“They do a great job of making you feel comfortable and making the whole process as normal as possible. I don’t think you can underestimate that. They just show a genuine care and support and that is priceless,” he said.

Lymphoma is the most common cancer in young people aged 15-29 years and is the 3rd most common cancer in children aged 0-14 years.

It affects around 6,500 Australians each year.

“It was a rollercoaster, but it also probably gave me a perspective that I would never have if I hadn’t gone through it, I’m just very lucky to have come through it” Sarantinos said

“I think the tricky part is always keeping that perspective front of mind. Sometimes you lose sight of the lessons that you learned during periods like that and you sort of just get into your normal pattern and routine and often you have to just try to stop and remind yourself of what’s really important.”

To find out more about the Walk 4 Lymphoma visit https://johnnymannahwalk.com/. 

 

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