Five months ago, Glen Turner was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer. To suggest that it has rocked his world is an understatement.
It takes a fair bit to unsettle Glen. A tough New Zealand-raised rugby league player, he is as uncompromising as they come.
But as he begins to talk about the impact the diagnosis has had on his family, in particular his wife Angela and their two young boys, Glen struggles emotionally as he tries to keep it together. Talking about it is difficult. At 41 years of age he so desperately wants to be around to see his kids grow up.
“I’m still floored by it,” says Glen. “It’s a very emotional time and it’s particularly hard with the kids. It breaks my heart.”
The cancer diagnosis came after a lump formed on his back.
“I had a full-body scan and they discovered a few tumours in my back.”
That was five months ago.
“I’m a lot more at peace with it than I was. My wife Angela has been a great support. We’re good as a family unit,” says Glen, adding, “lots of people go through this.”
What gives him strength is his upbringing.
Born and raised in Christchurch, the son of a wharfie father while his mother worked for Nestle, Glen left school as a 15-year-old to take on a carpentry apprenticeship, but in the back of his mind, he wanted to give rugby league one final push.
This was somewhat against the grain. Christchurch and Glen’s immediate community were fervent rugby union devotees. But 19-year-old Glen and his brother Marty backed themselves and headed to Australia to try their luck.
The Melbourne Storm eventually picked up both brothers. Glen made his debut in 2000 and Marty played his first game in 2002.
Although not physically the biggest player on any field, Glen played without fear.
He went on to play four seasons with the Storm before heading to the Raiders where he played three years from 2007.
Injury caught up with him and an ankle reconstruction was the final straw. After almost 100 games in the NRL and at 30 years of age he decided to give it away.
“I retired from football wishing I could have done more, but the last couple of years were tough with injuries.”
Life after football wasn’t easy either.
“The reality is that it’s hard transitioning out of football,” remembers Glen. “I was so motivated to play and I was surrounded by highly motivated players who go to work wanting to do their best every day. It was like starting again when I retired from football.”
After football, he worked in the Raiders welfare department, spent a couple of years in the public service and operated a food retail business in Braddon. This was all before he rediscovered the construction industry and began working with the RAR Group on cranes and rigging.
He’s been at RAR for five years now and is hoping to be there for many more, pending the outcome of his health concerns.
“I’m optimistic, but I do have my down moments. My treatment is going well. It’s more maintenance treatment than anything else for the rest of my life, and I’m not sure how long that will be.”
Speaking this week after a stem cell transplant, Glen is full of praise for the ACT Health system. He has also been buoyed by the support he has received from the rugby league community and says he’s enjoyed receiving phone calls from his old teammates.
As a father of two young boys, eight-year-old Taj and four-year-old Billy, it’s been tough, as he’s concerned primarily with the impact that his battle is having on others.
It’s hard not to be touched by the genuine nature of Glen Turner as he surrounds himself with support and arms himself with the spirit that he demonstrated on the footy field.