As John Bakker prepares for his eighth City2Surf this August, he reflects on what got him running in the first place.
The Bakker family’s world turned upside down when their youngest son, Tom, was diagnosed with T cell lymphoma at 12. The boy is now a 26-year-old man, but his cancer journey took a toll on the entire family. John shares his story.
“At the time Tom was diagnosed with cancer we lived in the ACT,” said John. “He had to be air lifted by helicopter to Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick from Canberra Hospital.”
It was a terrifying time for the family. The 12-year-old almost died due to a lemon-sized tumour under his chest plate. But that was just the first time he faced death.
“Tom had two years of treatment so we had to live between the hospital and Ronald McDonald House,” John said.
"He died on us twice during the first 12 months, but was revived back to life. We met many families who were not so lucky. The hardest thing was becoming close to those families who lost a child to cancer."
To say that childhood cancer is an upheaval is an understatement. The Bakker’s move meant John and wife Tima had to give up their jobs. Their older son also had to put his life on hold.
“Colin was in year 11 at the time and ended up being out of school for 12 months,” said John. “A social worker got him Advanced Standing [a credit] for the year due to the trauma the family faced.”
The stress that arose during that time had a negative impact on John’s well-being. His weight crept up to an unhealthy 180 kilograms.
"I was approaching my 50s,” said John. “I was tired, morbidly obese, and fully medicated for high blood pressure, gout, cholesterol, etc. I needed to do something.”
It was seven years ago that John decided to lose weight and get his life back on track. And he has done so in the most unselfish way.
John started running and participating in events like the City2Surf. With every run, he’s generated sponsorship to fund research to find better treatments and a cure for the disease that almost took his son.
“I now weigh 95 kilos,” said John. “My life has changed and I am focused on raising vital funds to find a cure for childhood cancer.”
“The Kids’ Cancer Project has become my charity of choice because they fund research to find better treatments for many different types of childhood cancer,” said John. “They also have a bear program where you can donate a teddy to a child in hospital.”
Learn more: About The Kids' Cancer Project Bear Programme
Almost a thousand children are diagnosed with cancer in Australia every year. As many as three children and adolescents die of cancer each week making it the country’s most deadly disease.
Despite these devastating statistics, John is finding it harder to get the community behind funding lifesaving medical research.
“Over the years I have raised several thousands of dollars,” he said. “But it’s becoming more and more challenging to raise the support I once did.”
To counter that, John had upped his commitment to generating awareness in some eye-catching running outfits.
“Last City2Surf a sponsor challenged me to wear a Superman suit,” said John. “It was fully padded and a hot day so I almost died from sweat, but it was well worth it for The Kids’ Cancer Project.”
“This year, I’ll be wearing my The Kids’ Cancer Project t-shirt, cape, gold tutu and a gold wig,” he said.
"I always tell my supporters when I run the City2Surf,” said John. “That it is a very tough run, but not as tough as what a child goes though when fighting cancer."