Brad Haddin: 'I dropped cricket there and then'
PLAYING cricket again was the last thing on Brad Haddin's mind as he prepared for the harrowing flight home from the Caribbean in early 2012.
While many were left wondering if the then 34-year-old wicketkeeper had represented his country for the last time, after walking out on the tour of the West Indies, the man himself had far greater concerns than whether he would don the baggy green cap again.
He may have set the cricket world abuzz, but it was his own personal world that had been rocked to the core by a phone call from his wife Karina in the early hours while he and his teammates were preparing for their next match.
Cricket Australia had announced Haddin, at his insistence, was returning home to Sydney for "personal reasons”.
What few knew at the time was those personal reasons were in fact the news that his 16-month-old daughter Mia had been diagnosed with cancer.
"Mia had been a bit off, and Karina had always planned to take her in to see the doctor,” Haddin recalled to Australian Regional Media.
"But you don't expect to hear down the other end of the line that your daughter's got cancer. You expect she's allergic to something or she's got a virus and she needs antibiotics.
"You spend your whole life as a cricketer challenging yourself to be the best you can be and get to the top. But once I heard those words from Karina I dropped cricket there and then. There was not another thought about getting back to the game.
"It was all about making sure I could get home as quick as I could for the fight that we had in front of us.”
But first was the flight - several of them.
Departing from the tiny island of St Vincent, Haddin's trip home would take no less than 42 gruelling hours, stopping over in Barbados, London and finally Singapore.
There was a more direct flight home but - as he revealed in his book My Family's Keeper - catching it would have meant a delay of 24 hours.
Dressed in civvies, gone was Haddin the professional cricketer. Here was Haddin the concerned father and husband, who had the initial exchange with Karina ringing in his ears.
"Brad, I'm ringing from the (Westmead) Children's Hospital. She's got a tumour. Mia has cancer,” he recounts in the book, which begins in the most dramatic fashion: "Is she going to die? Is Mia going to die?”
Doctors had discovered "a mass effect exerted on the right kidney”. The initial thought was that it was a Wilms' tumour. That would have been the best-case scenario. The worst was that she had neuroblastoma.
"The uncomfortable bit about going home was the unknown,” Haddin explained.
"I did a stupid thing - and I wouldn't recommend it - and that was get on Google.
"There was some good stories there when we thought it was a Wilms' tumour, but then I was reading up more about neuroblastoma and survival rates and treatment plans.”
Haddin revealed he eventually took sleeping pills to knock himself out.
"Just being in transit, my mind couldn't stop ticking,” he recalled to ARM.
"You don't know what was going to be at the other end of the phone when you stopped over.
"That was tough, wanting to be home but knowing you had the journey in front of you to get there.”
Of course, once he finally arrived, the real battle was only just beginning - a battle made all the more alarming when it turned out little Mia was in fact suffering from neuroblastoma.
Haddin is one of the most fiercely combative players to have played in the green and gold. He loved a skirmish, be it while wearing either sets of gloves, batting or keeping.
But this was something else he and wife Karina were confronted with.
Haddin recalls in My Family's Keeper that doctors at Westmead "had to treat her in the most aggressive way possible. That meant high-dose chemo, surgery, more chemo, a bone marrow transplant, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. But without it our beautiful daughter would certainly die.”
Four years on, the family is breathing easier after the treatment proved successful.
But Haddin admits to Australian Regional Media a level of stress and anxiety remains.
"One of the first things the doctor said to us was 'you're no longer a normal family, you've now got a kid with cancer',” he said.
"At the moment we're lucky she's cancer-free and enjoying life as a six-year-old and all the pleasures that come with it.
"But it (a possible relapse) is always in the back of your mind.
"If she's got a pain in the stomach Karina and I ask ourselves 'is it a pain in the stomach where you need some Panadol or is it a pain in the stomach where something is coming back?'.
"They're hard thoughts to get out of your head. In all honesty, I don't think they'll leave.
"You're always nervous she could relapse or something's not quite right.
"As much as you try to tell yourself things are going to be all right, it is human nature (to worry).”
After winning back his spot in the Australian team, there was another major scare on the home front in 2015 when Mia became ill.
Haddin this time was forced to cut short his Ashes tour - and ultimately his international career, with the veteran controversially overlooked by chairman of selectors Rod Marsh when he later made himself available.
Haddin, though, looks backs on a "blessed career”, which ended with 66 Test matches and 126 one-day internationals to his name, not mention captaining his country twice in Twenty20 internationals.
"I wouldn't change one thing about it,” he said.
His greatest achievement, however, will always be raising children Zac, 8, Mia, 6, and Hugo, 4 - and always being there for them, no matter what lengths he has to go to.
"I'm an international cricketer, but I'm no different to a carpenter or a lawyer who's got to drop everything and be at their family's side,” he said.
"I didn't see myself being different to any other father.”
My Family's Keeper is out now