s2 Ep2: Rhys Greedy

Just before his 21st birthday, Rhys Greedy’s world came crashing down. The fit, adventurous Australian Army rifleman was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and underwent intensive treatment. After five years of being in remission, Rhys began what has become an annual quest to conquer some of the world’s tallest peaks to push his physical boundaries to the limits all while raising money for worthy causes. To date, he has raised close to $70,000 and has no plans of slowing down.

As his 10th remission anniversary nears, Rhys speaks with Roxanne McCarty-O’Kane to about his journey. Watch the interview on the video above, or continue on to read the full transcript…

Roxanne:             Hey there, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us for another edition of the Phoenix Phenomenon. My name is Roxanne McCarty-O’Kane, and I interview high-profile Australians and bring you their stories of triumph over some of the biggest challenges that we face, every day. Today, I have with me, paramedic and extreme fundraiser, Rhys Greedy. Thanks for joining us, Rhys.

Rhys:                     Hello, everyone. And thank you for having me, Roxanne.

Roxanne:             Not a problem at all. That’s great. Rhys is a paramedic with the Queensland Ambulance Service. But for the past few years, he’s been taking on some pretty extreme challenges and pushing body to the limits, all in the name of fundraising, and I believe has clocked up more than 60,000, is that right, for various charities?

Rhys:                     Yeah. Yeah. At this stage, I think the last four years has seen approaching the $70,000 mark actually, and that’s not including the $20,000 that we’re hoping to achieve as in a group setting for the fundraiser this year, which the trip for that is actually coming up in only six weeks’ time. It’s almost here, which is very exciting. It’s a paramedic founded and orientated fundraising campaign, which has now been going for the last year or so. So yeah, it’s a very exciting journey to be a part of. And just for me, something that I’ve continued on doing since 2014. It’s been an amazing few years.

Roxanne:             Absolutely. And you know, some people, when they think fundraising and trying to do good, they might do a sausage sizzle or something a little bit more low key, but you’ve gone all out. You’re taking on the biggest peaks in the world, and really putting it out there.

Rhys:                     Yeah. Yeah, and I’ve tried to … There’s nothing wrong with the sausage sizzle. They’re a good money-raiser, but I feel like it’s been, I think, beneficial to me. Not only raising money for good causes, but ticking off some pretty amazing bucket list items for myself. Outside of work, I love getting overseas and doing some high-altitude trekking, and some extreme mountain climbs.

I think, since 2014, when all of this sort of started and blended in together, it’s been amazing for me to do these trips. Not just for myself, but to have a bigger picture in mind. So coming home, it just feels so much more special, rather than just ticking off that climb or that trek, and knowing that I’ve done it for someone or something bigger than myself.

Roxanne:             Absolutely. I’d love to take it right back to even before 2014, what some of our listeners and watchers might not know is that you also went through a cancer battle. You were diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2009.

Rhys:                     That’s right, yeah.

Roxanne:             I think it was just before your 21st birthday, wasn’t it?

Rhys:                     Only a couple of weeks prior, yeah. January 16, 2009, probably a date that I won’t forget. I was in the Army at the time and based up in [inaudible 00:03:21] with my work and my training within the military. And sorta back into 2008, was when the symptoms started to arise. And following some investigation in January ’09, that it was confirmed that I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

At that age, I guess, mentally rock bottom for a little bit there. It was certainly not something you expect, when I was only relatively new to my job in the Defense Force and loving what I was doing, and a lot of areas in my life just went from 100 to zero, once I’d started the chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

2009 for me, yeah. No work. I think I was very much down in the dumps, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I was probably 20 kilos lighter than what I am now, post-chemo. It physically ravaged my body, which wasn’t nice, and I think particularly my job now, going to not only oncology patients, but also mental health patients and talking to them. I think I can acknowledge now that my mental health was affected by what was happening, and I was probably too young and stubborn at the time to acknowledge that.

I think a big part of my journey now with the fundraising and particularly reaching out to cancer patients and young men with lymphoma is staying on top of that mental battle. Not just trying to go through the treatment, because there’s so many other areas that can be affected without you actually sitting down and realizing what’s going on.

Roxanne:             Completely. Yeah. And so, I guess, what was it for you? As you mentioned, you were only young of 21.

Roxanne:             What was it that, I guess, got you focusing on the mental side of things? Was it a connection with a particular service, or a support person, or a family member that helped you to engage that side and just start lifting yourself out of that?

Rhys:                     I think at the time, I very much had an alpha male mentality. There was probably some ignorance to my own situation and I very much had the mindset that I was going to get the oncology clinic. Do my four or five hours of chemotherapy, and get home, and just try, and get on with it.

Rhys:                     I think outside of my own mindset, my mother in particular was amazing to me. She’s gone through cancer herself, previously. Her side of the family, we have experienced losing family members following cancer battles. She was definitely my rock for the 10 months that I was going through my own treatment. We already had an amazing relationship prior to 2009, but I think for the years following, her and I, we have an unbreakable bond.

I think that’s across the board, anyone’s that gone through any sort of cancer, the people that I’ve met over the last few years, you just seem to have this bond. Even with a complete stranger, you subliminally know what each other has endured. I know I’ve come across people that have lived through far more strenuous battles than I had faced myself. But yeah, there is a pretty special bond.

And again, with my line of work, I love sitting down and chatting to and opening up to patients that I’m transporting to hospital, who are either going through or have previously been through a cancer battle, and they feel so much more comfortable talking to me in the ambulance about what’s going on then because I, to an extent, have gone through what they are experiencing. That level of empathy for me as a paramedic, I think is a very important aspect of my job with that caliber of patient. I’ve been given huge benefit in that respect, and I treat my diagnosis like a blessing now because it’s certainly opened my eyes in a lot of ways.

Roxanne:             Yeah, absolutely. How do you think … You mentioned it was a 10-month battle for you, a 10-month treatment process.

Rhys:                     Yeah.

Roxanne:             How do you think you did evolve, and I guess, transform in that period? Obviously, you had the physical impacts. But mentally, coming out the other side of that, how would you describe that change in you?

Rhys:                     Yeah, it did take some time. I was very lucky being in the Army. They were fantastic with supporting me through my treatment and once I had been cleared in remission in October that year, I was given a compassionate posting down to the Army barracks in Brisbane, which is obviously closer to my family on the Sunshine Coast. So they accommodated for that, which was great.

I was put into their health service and hospital on the barracks for five days a week. I was under the care of the staff there. I think both physically and mental health-wise was picked right back up. It did take some time, but over that six-month window, I bounced straight back out the other end and was comfortable in going back to work and continuing on with life and my role in the Army, which was certainly a strenuous one at times.

Due to my diagnosis, I didn’t get the chance to deploy overseas. There was two trips to Afghanistan. One, while I was getting treated in 2009, and another trip that came up in 2012, that due to being in remission for only such a short period of time, I think the precedent had been set with previous cases that they didn’t want to risk someone being overseas for six to nine months, and not being able to identify if somebody was to relapse, which that’s completely fair enough. Then, that is what encouraged my decision to discharge on my own terms. It certainly wasn’t a medical discharge. I made that decision myself. I still served for five years, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I think now, it’ll happen for a reason. I’m now in a career that I can see myself doing for quite some time. I think it’s my calling, so I think it’s all fallen into place, pretty nicely.

Roxanne:             Absolutely, yeah. And so, were you already feeling into paramedics, into a career in the health services by the time you decided to discharge yourself?

Rhys:                     No, I actually looked into the police force initially. I’d actually applied to Queensland Police, whilst my discharge papers were getting processed. Both ends of it, it was probably four or five months of going through the discharge process. And also, doing my application with Queensland Police.

And towards the very back end of that application, things fell through. At the time, I was devastated and I had absolutely no thought process about putting myself through three years of full-time university, doing the Bachelor of Paramedic Science. But again, I think it all happened for a reason. University was very tough at first. You can imagine how little theory work, us guys in Infantry in the Army actually do, so I felt like I was starting school over again.

But once I got into the swing of it, it’s a fantastic degree. A lot of hands on stuff. They get you out on road with working crews at stations around the place, and you get a really exposure to what the job is all about, and that just solidified it for me, that this is what I want to do.

Two years on the job now, and yeah, like I said, I can’t see myself leaving any time soon. I absolutely love what I do.

Roxanne:             Absolutely, that’s great. Was there a particular trigger, or a particular, I guess, situation that you came across that gave you that light bulb moment to think paramedic science and QAS?

Rhys:                     I think 2014 for me in a lot of ways was very life-changing. I think the first part, I did want to go down the route of emergency services. And when things didn’t work out with the police, I only very briefly looked into the fire service and the application process for that is a very extensive one. There’s no guarantees that you will come out with a position, anyways.

Even though paramedics is a very competitive option, once you get back to the backend of the university degree and some jobs are quite hard to come by, at least going to university, I would’ve had a bachelor degree under my belt and I could’ve expanded into something else, if the ambo thing didn’t work. I just wanted to, I guess, coming out with much on paper from the military, just to have some tertiary studies and challenge myself in that way.

The option there now is to maybe expand into a master’s degree and progress even further within the job, which is an exciting prospect. It opens up a lot more doors. Particularly, what I do outside of work with my climbing and that kind of thing, you can get into your helicopter rescue type roles, which would be the absolute dream for me.

Roxanne:             I could so see you doing that.

Rhys:                     Yeah, I know. I watch documentaries on Netflix and I’m like a kid at Christmas, watching these amazing rescue shows, and what they do.

But yeah, there’s plenty of motivation there to do some further studies down the track. But for now, I’m very happy, just doing what I’m doing on road. And certainly, getting a lot of exposure down here in North Brisbane, where I’m stationed. There’s no shortage of interesting work, as you can probably imagine.

Roxanne:             Yeah.

Rhys:                     So yeah, very, very happy with how things are playing out, both inside and outside of uniform with my little passion on the side.

Roxanne:             Yeah, a little passion side on the side.

Rhys:                     A little big passion.

Roxanne:             Take me through how that all evolved. Yeah, obviously, being active has always been something that you’ve been doing since you were young. When did you decide to, I guess, really take it that point, where you’re going extreme climbing, and mountaineering, and that sort of thing? Had that been a bit of a passion, before you launched into the fundraising side of things?

Rhys:                     Not as much as what it has escalated into. I’ve always been very outdoorsy. I think time in the Army certainly encouraged that, the outdoor camping and living on rations, and sort of physically exerting yourself in quite isolated scenarios.              Bizarrely, I am one that enjoys that kind of thing. So again, 2014, during that year, I had signed up for a trip to walk the Kokoda Trail over in Papua New Guinea. It was, at the time, more of just a, I guess, having served in a defense force, and obviously what the story behind the trial with our Australian Forces. It was certainly one that I wanted to tick off in that experience, and what an amazing, amazing trip that was. I think that probably set the benchmark.

I remember chatting to one of the guys, who was on that trip, who actually put me in touch with a Sherpa in Nepal, who had done quite a few trips with over the years. And literally, within a week of getting home from Kokoda, I had locked in a trip for the Annapurna base camp over in Nepal.

I think I had a moment, while I was walking through the jungle over there, or a realization actually that October 13th, that year was my five years in remission from lymphoma. Yeah, for some reason, I think at the time, again, this is not sort of a thought process. That back then, initially, once I had been deemed in remission, I was a little bit, I guess, self-absorbed about it all. I’d just kinda swept it under the rug and just got back to living my life. I don’t think there was much … Yeah, probably not much empathy regarding other people and knowing personally what it was like to go through a battle with cancer. I probably should’ve been showing more consideration. I don’t know. It’d be hard to put into words.

But at the time, when I was over there on Kokoda and everything was just sort of coming to mind about my own battle, what I’d been through. The fact that I could be in a situation, where I could genuinely reach out to others and use my story to provide a bit of inspiration. That’s where on return, once I’d locked in the trip to Nepal, I actually got in touch with Lymphoma Australia, who are based here in Brisbane. They’re a not-for-profit organization. They operate on a much smaller scale than say your breast cancer and your prostate cancer foundations.

I just sent an email to the saying this is who I am, this is my story, and this is what I would like to do. I mentioned Nepal and they were thrilled that someone sorta came with this out-of-the-box idea regarding a fundraising plan. Over the next few weeks, I had the opportunity to sit down with the CEO in-person. So then started to introduce me to patients currently going through treatment, and that just set the fire for the passion that’s now been ongoing for a number of years.

The Nepal trip then escalated into the following year. I was over in the European Alps and I summited the highest peak in Western Europe. That trip, on top of Nepal, that ended up raising about … I think it was just shy of $15,000 for Lymphoma Australia, which went towards a lot of important research and money to help patients and their families with the financial stresses of someone being diagnosed with cancer. I think of all the fundraisers, probably the one that was most special to me, just because I was in dealings with people who I could directly relate to and what they were going through.

So yeah, from there, once that wrapped up, I’ve just had no desire to make it a once off. I kinda set the tone that each year, I wanted to, depending on time and place, where I was at in my life, somewhere or someone that I could reach out to and coincide some fundraising and awareness with the trip that I had set out to do for that year.

2016 was the Kilimanjaro trip, which the story behind that is quite unique, but it all turned out for, I think, an absolutely amazing eight-month journey. I had actually walked into Nambour Hospital and was on my way to the oncology ward following the work I had done with Lymphoma Australia.

I wanted to continue to trend with reaching out to cancer patients, and raising money there. Within the hospital, I actually got lost. I approached a directory sign. And for some reason, the pediatrics ward stood out on that sign. I made my way into there. And eight months later, we’d raised $22,000 for the pediatrics ward at the hospital there, and successful summited Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Yeah, I’ve sort of found that being brave enough to create an idea with these sort of things and going through with it, you can certainly create waves with the people that you’re trying to reach out to and the communities. Those first couple, I was sorta Sunshine Coast-based, and I just realized that community is just incredible when it comes to reaching out and assisting financially, and with any sort of donations and help they can provide. These were no big organizations. These are family run businesses, who are still trying to get by and support their won, and we’re more than happy to reach out and provide assistance. That part of it has actually been amazing for me to see because I physically couldn’t have done these without the help of those around me. The ideas are great, but I obviously need the assistance of others. Yeah. The Sunny Coast in particular has just been incredible.

Roxanne:             Excellent. That’s great. And obviously, you can’t just wake up one morning and go, “I’m just going to head up to Nepal and just climb a mountain.”

Rhys:                     I think a couple of the trips have turned out like that.

Roxanne:             Mentally, yeah. Mentally, you can have that thought. But the process for you, between having the concept and then actually attempting the summit, that would be a huge physical process for you and getting through the training. Not only just the normal fitness training, but also dealing with altitudes and dealing with all the other challenges that come with mountaineering.

Rhys:                     Yeah, absolutely.

Roxanne:             So yeah, let’s find out a bit more about that.

Rhys:                     Yeah, that certainly has been a very challenging part of these trips. Obviously, Australia really has no elevation, whatsoever. It’s crazy to think that the basis of my training, using say the Glass House Mountains that are only 300 or 400 meters high, where I’m training for mountains that are over 6,000 meters high. And you know, the temperature, the isolate. But again, I think going down the path of these sort of trips. To me, the mindset is that because it’s a little bit unique and a little bit crazy to some, that draws interest. Which then brings on awareness, and also generosity with donations.

Rhys:                     For one, I guess, going back to last year, which I believe you did a story on. The return to Kokoda with Ryan and we set the 30-hour benchmark with completing the entire 96-kilometer trial. We fell just short with 32-and-a-half hours. Physically, I probably won’t compare that to anything I’ll ever do for quite some time. Taking out the element of altitude over there, that terrain, and what we attempted to do was very brutal.

But again, amazing, amazing cause behind it. There was obviously some personal reason with the passion of Ryan’s father due to a heart attack and reaching out to the cardiac ward at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

So again, I think getting back to the training, the fact that I’m not doing these things for myself, there is always that motivation. I think having you guys in my corner, who are publicizing stories and getting that awareness out there, it’s a feel good scenario, opening up the paper or seeing the story on the news on the night on the telly, and seeing yourself and realizing that the story is actually getting out there. It’s certainly motivation that you don’t want to fail what you’re setting out to do.

Roxanne:             You’re accountable now, yeah.

Rhys:                     That’s right, that’s right.

Roxanne:             Yeah.

Rhys:                     But yeah. The training for me, the trips that I set out to do. Using this next one for an example, so April will be my third back to Nepal and doing Everest base camp with a very large group this time. I’ve kinda gotten used to …

Roxanne:             Yeah, I was curious to find out why you’ve gone. Because normally, it’s maybe one or two, either you’re solo or you’ve got a buddy. But all of a sudden, it’s like … I think it’s 22, is it? You’ve got a giant group going.

Rhys:                     It is, yeah. A huge group, a huge group, which is going to make the trip absolutely amazing.

I was approached by a company, which is actually a paramedic-founded company called Earth Trails. They normally run biannual trips to either East Timor or Nepal, and the trips are mostly based around education and providing first aid and aid camps to remote communities in those countries. But this trip was sort of a one-off fund raiser and I was approached in June, last year. It was actually only a matter of weeks, before I left for Kokoda. I was very sidetracked at the time. And once I got back, I ended up driving down to Gold Coast and having a chat to the director of this company, who is also a current-serving paramedic, himself.

In short, they decided to go down the path of organizing this trip through Everest base camp and trying to get a predominant group of paramedics. We’re raising money for the Queensland Ambulance Legacy Foundation. Which again, it operates on a much smaller scale than say your Defense Force or your QPS Legacies, and they heavily rely on fundraising and donations to get by and support the people that they endeavor to look after.

Basically, whether it be a paramedic, him or herself, or their direct family. If circumstances arise that I’ll use the recent example of our colleague, who sadly lost his life in Rockhampton only a couple of weeks ago, whilst he was responding to a job. He’s left behind a young family, so Legacy immediately reached out to them and provide financial support.

They’re sad circumstances, but they’re very, very special ones. The gentleman that I had been in touch with, who is the director of this trekking company, his young daughter, who is only two or three year, is currently going through treatment for her own cancer. It’s completely put their lives on hold, and he’s not working as much as what he should be, and his wife has, obviously, taken the 24/7 care of their young daughter. He endeavored to thank Legacy, who reached out and provided them financial support. We set the goal of $20,000 as a bit of a giveback.

That was the original idea. Initially, for the trip to be viable, we only needed about six people. And this is the power of social media, I simply just put a post on Facebook just to get expressions of interest. And 48 hours later, the trip was over 20, which I think is amazing. Every individual who has signed up for the trip has given a $500 donation to Legacy, so that’s already $10,000. We’re well on the way to getting the other 10. $20,000 to an organization like that is monumental.

Yeah. Having the opportunity, I’ve sort of taken on the role of the expedition leader for this trip, which is a bit daunting because I’m sorta used to looking after just myself on these trips.

Roxanne:             I’m assuming many of the others in the party haven’t been there twice before though, right?

Rhys:                     Yeah. Not much experience with it at all, but that’s exciting. The opportunity to, I guess, take people over because Nepal is just such an amazing country. I can see myself going back there for many years to come. So yeah, having the opportunity to introduce people to the people over there, the culture, the amazing environment that we’re walking in. Just having the chance to, again, continue on my own personal journey of the fundraising.

 I, obviously, can’t take credit for this one. I think my focus with the role of the expedition leader has been the most important. It’s actually been amazing to see the other guys in the group sorta take charge with the fundraising. They’ve all thoroughly enjoyed doing it. They’ve all got the mindset that it’s going to be a very challenging trip. But again, we’ve obviously got that bigger picture in mind, which provides so much more motivation than I think people will realize, once we’re over there. It starts to get a bit tough.

Roxanne:             Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I guess, with having such a big party, does that bring other logistical challenges and things, or does it not really?

Rhys:                     Absolutely.

Roxanne:             Yeah.

Rhys:                     Yeah. When the group size expanded as much as it did, the company needed to recruit a 2ic. I wasn’t logistically able to lead a group that size on my own, which I was very happy that there’s an extra set of hands there.

Roxanne:             Yeah.

Rhys:                     And obviously, yeah, Everest base camp is one of those areas in Nepal that is fantastic regarding any sort of extrication or evacuation if things turn a little bit nasty, whether it be physical injury or altitude sickness. The evacuation services, particularly by helicopter are absolutely amazing. We’re completely covered for all those incidents. Touch wood it doesn’t happy, but you’ve always got to have a contingency plan in mind.

Roxanne:             Of course, yeah.

Rhys:                     Again, for me, it’s a lot of focus. I’ve had to sit down and do a lot of homework behind-the-scenes regarding that side of things because it will be me that will be sort of coordinating those efforts, if it comes to that. I think this is a great opportunity for my own expansion regarding these trips, and obviously, continuing the fundraising element. But I feel if all goes well with this trip, hopefully, I can continue. I love what I do on-road as a paramedic, but like I said before, I would love to start branching out into maybe more remote rescue and more evacuation, chopper-related rescue services.

Yeah. This, again, it could be part of the start of something great. But for the moment, yeah, just very excited. So again, fifth year in a row, I believe, for taking off another incredible trip and continuing to raise some money for a great cause.

Roxanne:             Absolutely. You’ve jumped up a few. You’ve done Kilimanjaro, Nepal. You’ve done the Himalayas. You’ve done the French Alps.

I’d like to find out, I guess, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt, while you’re physically on that journey? While you are on the mountain. There must be some really profound mental things going on at that time.

Rhys:                     I think a funny mindset for me is for some reason, I actually enjoy the isolation, the bitterly cold temperatures. I find it refreshing. You’re flying to these foreign countries. I deliberately don’t activate any local SIM service, so there’s no phone contact. I’m occasionally doing the wifi thing to obviously update particularly for mother’s sake to let her know that I’m still there.

Roxanne:             Yeah.

Rhys:                     But it’s actually really refreshing to just be cut off from First World technology and First World problems, I guess, for the couple of weeks that I’m there. And sort the further away, I mean, this time last year, I was actually over in South America. It wasn’t a fundraising trip. I actually treated it as a training, I guess holiday is probably a funny word to use. But in the lead up to Kokoda, I just really wanted to get the legs and lungs iron strong. I went over there for about 18 days in Ecuador and just summited one … Well, they’re still considered volcanoes over there. A couple of them were actually active, that we were climbing.

So yeah, five in a row. I think I’m always looking back at the photos and the videos of that. And at the time, there probably are moments, where you get up at … They’re called Alpine starts. You’re up at either midnight or 2:00 AM, and you’ve got to throw all your gear on and step outside into the -20 degree temperature and start walking for 10 hours. There are absolutely moments where I do briefly think to myself, why have I paid thousands of dollars to put myself in this situation? But that’s just completely evaporated, once you’re experiencing the most beautiful sunrises on Earth, when you’re thousands of meters above sea level, and finally getting to the summit of these mountains.

And then, these are, I guess, hobbies of a minority group, I think. It’s not a particular … In Australia, that’s why a lot of the trips I’ve kinda struggled to recruit plus ones or twos, or groups of people, particularly with the more technical stuff. Because yes, in Australian, we haven’t got the luxury of these huge mountainous environments, where you can get the training and discover your love for it. My first couple of trips, I was kind of going in cold without any sort of proper training or preparation. I just learned on-the-go.

Roxanne:             What were some of the biggest lessons you did learn on those first couple of trips?

Rhys:                     I think probably the biggest one was my second trip to Nepal, which was at the end of 2017. That was my first year in the job as a paramedic. And again, going back to what I just said regarding the fundraising, I like to apply it to time and place.

I actually did a fundraiser for QAS Legacy, back then. I set myself the task of an almost 6,500-meter mountain in Nepal. I got about 250 meters from the summit and had to turn back, and that was actually the first time that I had tasted defeat with these trips. I was …

I think that was compounded by the fact that I had the banner in my bag that was ready to be pulled out at the summit to show that I had done this for Legacy, and the money had been successfully raised. All that was left was the easy part, just get to the top of the mountain.

Roxanne:             Yeah.

Rhys:                     But yeah, the first time that I actually had to turn back and that was just an error on the boots that I had chosen. They weren’t cut out for the temperatures that I had experienced. I actually ended up with a bit of nasty frostbite on my big toe on my right foot, and it took about a year for the sensation to come back.

Roxanne:             You’re kidding, wow.

Rhys:                     Yeah, it was actually a relatively serious injury for that environment. I could feel what was going on, and I knew in my mind … 250 meters over there, it may as well be two-and-a-half kilometers. It’s one of those situations, where it’s another two hours of return walking and I probably would’ve come back to the country and been having to learn to walk again because I probably would’ve had to take my right toe, and there’s no theatrics there. The photos I have of the significant blistering and tissue damage, it’s a fine line between it being superficial and the limb being completely destroyed, essentially.

I think looking back, what helped was when I came back, and I was still obviously devastated and just hearing people be so positive. The fact that I just simply stepping out and attempting is such a big step. Just reminded myself that it’s not about me. I’ve come back and the money is still there, the awareness is still there. There’s still been so much positivity about the months prior and what has been brought to light with, at that time, QAS Legacy.

That trended into last year, when we fell two-and-a-half hours short of our 30-hour goal. It didn’t even phase me. I was still so thrilled that had been achieved. By the end of it, we were just both so happy to get over the finish line anyway.

We planned high fives and man hugs, but both of us just pretty much collapsed to the ground and got on the bus and went back to the hotel. There was physically no celebrations could be had.

Roxanne:             I’m not surprised by that at all.

Rhys:                     Yeah. That was a good learning curve. Yes, I like to set the bar high, but I can’t be disappointed. That at the end of the day, I’ve given it my best shot and I think that’s as cheesy as that sounds, that’s applicable to a lot of aspects in life, and it’s good to try and spread those messages with what I’m doing, and that’s why I’ve particularly tried with the younger male population just regarding their won cancer battles and putting side the alpha male mentality. It’s okay to be vulnerable because I’ve never been more scared in my life. When I was going to my chemo sessions and getting hooked up for four or five hours.

Honestly, at the time, I refused for my then partner and my mother to come with me. I just didn’t want anyone to see me in that state, which is not the way to do it. That’s another thing I’ve encouraged is just let people, let them in and go through the process with you. It’s not something you want to try and take on yourself. Because I’ve seen first-hand with my own family members, things up here start to deteriorate, your body is simply a vessel that will just follow.

Roxanne:             Absolutely.

Rhys:                     A big part of the cancer battle is staying on top following the mental game, and that’s really what I’ve been trying to push with my own message. That ties in with my training and preparation, and the trips that I do. Because to me, these trips are the pinnacle of physical and mental endurance.

Roxanne:             Yeah. I guess, what advice would you give not only to young men, but to anyone who is going through the cancer battle to keep that mindset uplifted? Because that, I think, would be the biggest challenge. That there is so much going on, so much for you to process.

Rhys:                     Yeah.

Roxanne:             Is it a matter of reaching out, making sure you speak to people. Is it connecting with the support organizations? What sort of things would you recommend?

Rhys:                     Yeah, that’s a good point. There is so much available now regarding cancer support services, like any other health or mental health service. Simply picking up the phone and you can be in touch with someone. My own mother, she still to this day, she will do volunteer work for Bloomhill, up on the Sunshine Coast. It’s fantastic to have people to sit down and talk to, who have been in that situation, themselves. It completely takes out that fear of the office and the white coat situation. You’re not sitting down and talking to someone who sometimes it feels like they’re just going through the motions and they’re terminology around that you’re not relating to.

Rhys:                     Whereas, I’m big on meeting people at a coffee shop, relaxed atmosphere, and just talk to them like a human being. Like a mate, who I feel those atmospheres, and you just see people. It can be a first-time sit down and they’re opening up, like you’ve known them for 10 years.

Yeah, I think the first step is definitely acknowledging that it’s not something that you want to go through yourself. Family, friends, exterior sources, and just always being honest about your fears and your vulnerability.

I had a great opportunity to … One of the Cancer Council Relay For Life events, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to be an ambassador for one of those events down here in Brisbane. And thankfully, my public speaking has improved, since I’ve started doing all this stuff because …

I stress to the point to them that as soon as you’re diagnosed, you’re immediately placed into a very special caliber of human being and you’re going to go through things that people, regardless of how much you say the chemo was this, and the radiation was that, they’ll never fully grasp what you’ve endured. I think taking it in your stride and I don’t expect everyone to start climbing mountains. Like I said, this is my own crazy way of, I guess, relaying the message. But everyone that’s been through saying like I haven’t come out the other side, you’re already an inspiration. You don’t need to do these fantastic over-the-top challenges. Simply sitting down and telling your story to someone else, who is maybe going through it themselves is more life-changing than I think people know.

Roxanne:             Yeah. I was talking to Alan Pearce, the other day, who obviously has been through his own. He’s been through a couple of cancer battles himself. And interestingly, he was saying with the majority of cancer survivors, more often than not, they just want to forget it even happened.

Rhys:                     That’s exactly what my mindset was, yeah.

Roxanne:             Yeah. And it’s not allowing those who are experiencing that to have that one-on-one interaction and to know that they’re not alone.

Rhys:                     Exactly right. Exactly, when I say we’re all just normal people from normal walks of line. I think the best way to sit down and relate to someone, and something that I didn’t do when I was going through my treatment. I, obviously, had my own mother, which she battled cancer herself. She was fantastic in so many ways, but I think it would’ve been nice if I had the opportunity to sit down with a young bloke, who could say, “Look, mate. I was diagnosed at your age.” The prime time, about to turn 21, and my life changed. But here I am now, I’m 30, and I’m doing fine, and you’re going to be the same. It’s huge, huge motivation for someone to look at someone like they’re looking in the mirror and not give up.

Roxanne:             Absolutely. It’s coming up to 10 years. This is your 10th year, isn’t it?

Rhys:                     It is, it is. October 13th is my second birthday. Yeah, especially the last five years, it’s been just an absolute whirlwind of amazing things. I’ve lost count of how many amazing people I’ve come across in my life. I’ll say my new life of this journey that I’ve started.

 Yeah. I mean, 10 years sounds like an … It is. It’s such a long time, but I can remember in 2009, like it was yesterday.

This is just  of what I had been doing because it’s incredibly humbling. Sometimes … I mean, I had this discussion with my girlfriend the other night. I don’t openly just start telling people about my story because I don’t want to feel like I’m putting myself on a pedestal. I’m more than happy to talk about it, when propositioned or in these scenarios because I like to spread the message. But yeah, I have just never been one that … I’m more of an actions speak louder than words type of guy. That’s what I want to continue to do. And if I can just have an impact on a handful of people each year, that’s a job well-done in my own opinion.

Roxanne:             Absolutely. I guess, as far as … Obviously, you’ve set the trend for a challenge every year. Do you ever feel like you will revisit the ones that got away, or are you happy to move past those and to look for other opportunities.

Rhys:                     Yeah. Obviously, I got so close too in Nepal a couple of years ago. That will be a return trip, 100%.

Roxanne:             Yeah.

Rhys:                     At the moment, obviously, the focus is Everest base camp and following that, I’m sort of looking into next year. They’re trips that you like to try and plan quite some time in advance. So yeah, a couple of ideas in the works at the moment, which is exciting. It’s looking like at this stage, I’ll probably return to South America. There’s two options at this stage that I’m looking into.

Initially, I wanted to try and do something around the date this year for my 10 years, but the dates were set in stone with this trip with base camp, which was obviously, April. But again, thinking back in April 2009, I was sitting in my oncology chair, getting pumped full of chemo drugs. So to think 10 years down the track, what I’ll be doing, that’s still pretty incredible to me. And obviously, doing it with an amazing bunch of people for another good cause.

Roxanne:             Absolutely.

Rhys:                     My little tradition with the 13th of October is just go down and sit somewhere by the water and just watch the sun rise and have a peaceful moment and sort of think about what’s taken place over the last decade. And sometimes, normally a tear shed.

Roxanne:             Understandably so.

Rhys:                     Understandably. But yeah, that will probably be the case again this year. But yeah, obviously, a little bit more special. 10 years, 20. Anyone who has gone through cancer, it’s one hell of a milestone, so I’m very much looking forward to being part of that.

Roxanne:             Absolutely, excellent. And for those who are watching and really connecting with your story and what you’re doing, what’s the best way for them to keep in touch with all of your adventures and to show their support as you go along?

Rhys:                     Yeah, absolutely. Around these trips, my social media, I like to just sort of base it around keeping everyone updated. Certainly, in the coming six weeks leading up to the trip and particularly in April, just on my Facebook page, I’ll pretty much dedicate that just to giving updates.

And even jumping on the Queensland Ambulance Service Facebook page, the media team has been fantastic for getting the message out there. They’re going to be out, again, over the next couple of months sharing not only some fundraising-related posts, but also regular updates in photo and video form, while we’re overseas, which will be exciting. And then, hopefully, we’ll have our big celebratory banner photo, once we reach base camp. I’m very confident by then, we will have reached and exceeded the $20,000 that we’ve set out, which is incredible.

Roxanne:             Yeah, absolutely. All right. For those of you, who are watching and listening at home, I will pop some links to those sites down below, so it’s easy for you to click through and support where you can. Yeah. Obviously, QAS Legacy is a really, really important charity, as you’ve heard from Rhys, and they’re doing amazing work with lots of families across the state.

But yes, unless there was any other pearls of wisdom you wanted to share with us today at all, Rhys? I think you’ve done pretty well.

Rhys:                     I was going to say I feel like I’ve absolutely chewed your ear off, sorry.

Roxanne:             No. Best kind of interview. Thank you so, so much for your time today, and we really do wish you all the best in this latest endeavor and all the rest that are yet to come.

Rhys:                     Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. And just a quick message. Anyone that watches this, I’m more than happy to sit down, and whether it be a message, a phone call, or even if you’re around Brisbane, have a sit-down coffee. If there’s anyone that’s going through any sort of personal or close family … That are cancer-related, I’m more than happy to have a sit down … Important to reach out and I am more than happy to share a coffee and have a chat about anything that you may need to talk about. You realize how much it may actually help things along, so please reach out if you need to.

Roxanne:             All right. That’s really wonderful. Thank you so much for that, Rhys. And thank you, again, for your time today.

Rhys:                     No worries. Thanks, Roxanne. Thanks for having me.

Roxanne:             Not a problem. And so, for those of you watching at home, we will continue to bring lots of amazing interviews with people like Rhys, who are doing incredible things with their lives, despite overcoming some incredible and really, really amazing challenges in their lives.

If you’d like to keep following the Phoenix Phenomenon, please make sure you like and subscribe, and we’ll keep you up-to-date with some of the many journeys really yet to come.

Thanks, Rhys. Enjoy the rest of your day.

If you would like to donate to the QAS Legacy fundraiser and support Rhys and the crew’s latest Peaks for Paramedics crusade, visit https://www.qaslegacy.org/t4p-fundraising

Scroll to Top