Battler Greg fights to help cancer patients

MERCURY SERIES: Making a Difference

When Greg Thurling started his own personal battle with chronic myeloid leukaemia 11 years ago, he noticed many people he spent time with in hospital had more than one fight on their hands.

Mr Thurling had worked with AMP since starting Thurling's Financial Services in 1981 and had income protection insurance.

But he noticed many others were worried about how their families would cope without them working.

He promised himself that as soon as he was well enough, he would do something to help others diagnosed with blood-related diseases, and their families.

GALLERY: Leukaemia Golf Day

He knew if something could be done to take pressure off families who were struggling financially, cancer patients could concentrate more on getting well.

In 2005, he contacted Nina Field at the Leukaemia Foundation in Wollongong and together they organised the first Leukaemia Golf Day, which was held at the Grange Golf Club in 2006.

"I think at least 16 of the hole sponsors that first year were my clients," he said.

Now Mr Thurling has sold his business to his daughter Brooke Thurling and officially retired but many of those same businesses have stuck by the cause, which gives him a huge lift every year.

"They are like family," he said. "They ring Brooke up and ask how I am going all the time. You can get pretty down sitting around home here sucking for air."

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Mr Thurling said he might not be able to attend the October 26 event this year because he is booked into Concord Hospital this week for a world-first operation to help him breathe.

His lung capacity is down to 15 per cent and he needs urgent surgery to relieve the pressure on his lungs.

"I've got to go through some fairly radical surgery," he said. "My skin has got very thick and very tight. It is so tight around my chest it won't let my lungs expand."

The operation will involve taking skins grafts from his legs and placing them on each side of his body.

"It has never been done before for a transplant patient in the world that we are aware of," he said.

"They do it for burns and it is being done by the burns unit up at Concord Hospital."

Mr Thurling said the numbers for the golf day were a little down this year because he had not had much of an opportunity to promote the event.

But he is confident it will still raise around $20,000 for local families.

"Wollongong is a tremendous place for people sticking their hand in their pocket for other people," he said.

Mr Thurling said he liked the way the Leukaemia Foundation used the money raised to help cover ancillary costs and provide food and accommodation for families of people with leukaemia. He has always requested money raised be used to help Wollongong people.

Over the years some of the biggest supporters of the golf day have been Dapto Leagues Club, Dorahy Meats, The Grange Golf Club, Figtree Bowling Club and Dapto Citizens' Bowling Club. AMP has given a total of $65,000 over the years and companies such as the Troy Ritchie Group and Minova have come on board over the years.

This year Hawks coach Gordie McLeod is attending the lunch to give a talk and Ricky Organ is doing a show despite his own battle with myeloma.

"He is doing it pretty tough himself but he is still going to come," Mr Thurling said."That is the sort of heart and spirit the bloke has got."

Mr Thurling said he always enjoyed attending the golf day with his family because he knows he would not have survived without the incredible support of his wife Bev, daughter Brooke, son Mark and his brother John who gave him a bone marrow donation.

He said having three wonderful grandchildren Caley, 6, Madison, 2, and Ebony, two months, also helped.

"Bev is a rock," he said. "Obviously your spouse goes through hell over the years dealing with this but she has just been sensational. I would have been dead years ago if it wasn't for her. And the kids have been terrific.

"You can't get through it without that support network. That includes friends and family."

Mrs Thurling said the family looked forward to the golf day as a celebration of her husband not only living one more year but doing something to help others survive as well.

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