Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Fighting cancer with a golf bucket list

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Holmes was first diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2010 and has endured 14 surgeries since.

Howick’s Greg Holmes is on the journey of a lifetime, attempting to play every 18-hole golf course in New Zealand, despite numerous setbacks.

Holmes, also known by family and friends as Holmer, is a surname known by most in the Howick-Pakuranga community.

His wife Carmen Holmes is a part-owner in some of Howick’s most beloved bars and restaurants including the Apothecary and Daisy Chang.

Holmes’ bucket list to play every 18-hole golf course in Aotearoa is no easy feat, made even harder by the timeline that he has found himself on.

Holmes was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2010, ironically, coming home from a golf trip in New Plymouth.

“Back then I had been having symptoms for a while, but I didn’t even know that bowel cancer was a thing,” he says.

After going to the doctors, Holmes was advised to go and see a specialist where a 5cm tumour was found that had gone through to his lymph nodes.

Thirteen years after his initial diagnosis, Holmes has been re-diagnosed multiple times for cancer in his lungs and liver and endured several rounds of chemotherapy and 14 surgeries.

“Thirteen years you sit in that waiting room at Auckland Oncology for your meetings and it’s the worst, most stressful situation, just sitting and waiting to hear what your outcome is going to be,” says Holmes.

In January 2021, his world came crashing down when he was told that there is no longer a cure for him and the only available treatments are palliative only.

Greg Holmes (Left) with friend Debbie McGregor during the longest day golf challenge in December last year.

“That day really took us by surprise. It definitely took us a few days to get our heads around it and sort life out a bit,” he says.

Holmes says he made a decision that day, as cliché as it may sound, that he wasn’t going to let the horrible news define him. He would make every goal a winner until he couldn’t keep going anymore.

Prior to being diagnosed, Holmes had organised a golf trip with friends at least twice a year and became accustomed to not playing at the same courses over and over.

“As I progressed, I realised how many golf courses I was getting through and worked out which I had and hadn’t played, which is where the idea for the bucket list was born,” Holmes says.

Holmer and his friends play a two-man format called Ambrose, which allows all standards of golfers to mix and play together with equal enjoyment irrespective of ability.

“We enjoy it because there’s not as much pressure on what your score is and you can take in the scenery more… but it is still very competitive of course.

There are 288 courses in the country and with every round taking around four hours, it will take more than 1000 hours to play them all.

He currently has 49 courses left to play in the country and says he isn’t going anywhere until they’re all ticked off the list.

Holmes says he’s never, much to his wife’s dismay, asked how long he has left to live because he doesn’t want to live to a timeline.

“I just want to keep going until I physically can’t keep going anymore,” he says.

After his terminal diagnosis, Holmes started taking publicly-funded chemotherapy once again, but after it wasn’t working, he was advised to go to a private one to keep him going.

Private chemotherapy isn’t funded in New Zealand as it is in just about every other developed country in the world, which means Holmes is paying around $2500 per week for the treatment.

“Luckily, we aren’t on bones, but it is still a lot of money which is not helping with what I leave behind for my family,” he says.

In order to fund this treatment Carmen and Holmer work full-time, after hours and on weekends. Carmen manages and works at the Apothecary Licensed Eatery and Daisy Chang, while Holmer (or Detective Senior Sergeant Holmes) is the National Clan Lab Manager for the NZ Police.

Holmes says after this diagnosis an amazing group of people donated around $50,000 to one of his friends to help contribute towards treatment. “Not one of them has ever told me who they are and never wanted thanks for it,” he says.

“You don’t realise how important friends are until stuff like this happens to you. If I didn’t have the mates that I do then I would be sitting around home and going into dark places, feeling sorry for myself,” he says.

Holmes says his biggest supporter throughout his battle with cancer has been his wife of 31 years, Carmen and his two sons, Ben and Tom.

Holmes says he tries to keep his days occupied, despite fortnightly chemotherapy treatment which limits his abilities for the few days following.

“If I can play a round where it gives me four hours to focus on how bad at golf I am, I would much rather prefer that than sitting at home and thinking about cancer,” he says.

On December 12 last year, Holmer and his friends took on the ‘longest day’ challenge at Whitford Golf Club, a golfing endurance event which tests skills and stamina over 72 holes in one day to raise funds for the Cancer Society.

Holmes and his team raised more than $21,000 for the foundation and for a long time had raised the most in the country. He refused to ride in a golf cart and walked the 72 holes from start to finish, totalling more than 30km in less than 12 hours.

“It was probably my highlight of the year to be honest. Towards the end it was very emotional and incredibly humbling, a huge sense of achievement while being around a great group of people,” Holmes says.

He says one of the big positives to come out of his cancer journey is that he has motivated people around him to do things while they can.

“It is said so often but you just don’t know what is around the corner and I just try to make the most of it…that’s what life is all about,” he says.

Holmes says he is beyond grateful for all the support that his friends have provided him with but it is his wife and two boys, Ben and Tom, that keep him going.

“I truly consider myself to be the luckiest man in the world being married for 31 years to the most beautiful, strong and caring person there is. Without her by my side I know my journey would have ended years ago,” he says.

“I’ve been dealt the hand and, as I’ve always said, you have two options; feel sorry for yourself or get on with it and I’ve chosen the latter to the best of my ability,” says Holmes.

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