5 years on…. Dr June
5 years ago today I remember my Mum & Dad sitting me down to show me the newspaper. In disbelief, the confirmed reports of a close friend and my sports doctor – June Canavan was killed in a light plane crash in Paupa New Guinea. She was on her way to complete the Kododa track – to raise money for her charity ‘School of St Jude.’ I had only rung her the night before on her mobile when she was in Port Moresby. She was on this flight the following morning and I found it hard to fathom that she had fallen victim to this tragic accident. Other than the people she was on board with – I was the last person she spoke by phone back in Australia.
Dr June had only just been in theatre with me a couple of weeks prior to oversee my hip arthroscope for a labral debridement. She had also mentored the surgeon who was working on me, though knowing I was in good hands she also wanted to see her own confirmation first hand about my injury. I had called Dr June a number of times that year already from overseas, and spent many hours in her practice back & forth between scans trying to figure out my injury. We first met when she was the team Doctor for Triathlon Australia at the Perth World Championships in 2000. I was competing in the 16-19year age group and she diagnosed every injury and illness from then until the 11th of August 2009. Often delivering the not so good news, Dr June had an ability to listen, decipher and diagnose the mind and body like I have never seen. She truly taught me how to investigate my own health, but also taught me how to never stop searching for answers either. She knew I worked in black and white and would always prescribe the program of recovery or help me understand how to prevent an injury or illness occurring in the future – ultimately, the ability to never dwell on the past – learn from it. As she always said to me between my tears of disappointment knowing I would have to spend some time on the side lines “well we can’t change what you now have, so let’s not dwell on the things you can’t do, let’s look at the things you can do and decide what you can do from this moment on.”
She was certainly not your normal doctor and any athlete that was treated by her would attest that she seemed as if she never slept. You certainly never felt like you were just a patient, and she had a lot of them!
Dr June died trying to improve the lives of others, and had travelled to PNG for the fourth leg of her charity ‘Klocking up the K’s’ campaign to raise $50,000 for a school in Tanzania – her passion outside of her clinic. In October she was going to climb Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro which I was also going to complete with her alongside a group of her friends and other athletes, but had become too sick to travel in the weeks before.
I’ve spent many a time having conversations in my head with her and very much wanted to ask her questions over the last couple of years in order to help me get through my own health battles, but one thing that has always stuck with me – even mid way through a consultation when we might veer off topic she would say “aren’t we lucky, aren’t we lucky to be here and have what we have.” It was very akin to one of the first sayings my Dad taught me – ‘I thought I was sad when I had no shoes, until I met a man with no feet’.
I was recently asked in an interview about how I’ve managed to stay as upbeat and positive about my career and life considering things haven’t seemed to all go my way or to plan and some of the challenging things I’ve faced. It’s not to say I have gotten over things immediately or not spend time thinking about the past – far from that. Though I’ve always worked hard to find answers, see the best in things and I know that I will continue to find a way to always get the best out of myself.
I found some of my old notes that I wrote before I spoke at Dr June’s funeral some weeks later:
“I’ve been thankful of the injuries I’ve had in my career because it’s meant I’ve got to spend more time with Dr June, I’ve learnt a lot about life from her.”
“If I could just bottle a little bit of her enthusiasm, passion, dedication, perseverance and compassion – plus a dash of her favourite red which I know she loved – it would certainly create the elixir of life that we could all have a little swig of.”
Other than my Mum, Dad, Sister, Aunty & Grade 7 teacher, Dr June was there to watch me in the Grandstands in Beijing.
So hears to you Dr June, Santè.
Thanks for reading x