Sumner in fight of his life

All Whites legend diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

All Whites legend diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

FINE TIMES: October 1987 . . . Gisborne City assistant coach Sean Byrne (left) and coach Steve Sumner prepare to drink from the Chatham Cup. It was the first and only time the club won the cup. Byrne died in Australia after a long illness. File picture
Steve Sumner who recently had a brush with death
29 June 2012, Herald on Sunday Photograph by Kellie Blizard

STEVE Sumner knows time is running out.

The All Whites legend — arguably the most influential player in New Zealand’s football history and captain of the celebrated 1982 World Cup team — was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer in September 2015. He has defied the odds since then, and last Christmas his PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) count had reduced by a significant amount.

But in June, Sumner received shattering news — the cancer had spread to his back, ribs, lymph nodes and liver.

The 61-year-old has continued to fight but had another setback this week, when he found out the option for a nuclear medicine treatment method in Perth wasn’t feasible, after tests in Auckland led experts to conclude the radical treatment would not be effective for him.

“It was tough to take that news,” Sumner said.

“I had heard about some great results from those treatments. It doesn’t look too good for me and my options are drying out.

“I’ve been told it is a matter of weeks to months, not months to years. But you never know. I am going to keep fighting for my family, keep fighting like there is no tomorrow. I have to find another way now.”

Sumner is staying remarkably positive, epitomising the strength of character that has already seen him beat some predictions from medical professionals.

“I’m not going to sit here moping,” Sumner said.

“I’m happy to be told the truth but everyone wants an opening don’t they? Those four words, ‘You just never know’, mean so much now. They leave an opening of hope. I need to set a plan now about how I am going to attack this. It might have to be left field — some kind of ‘witches brew’ — we will come up with something. If anybody has any suggestions I would like to hear from them.”

In fact, he’s so keen to hear from people, he’s offered his email address: manowar@hotmail.co.nz

Even in his darkest hour, Sumner is thinking of others, encouraging people to “get tested, get checked, as I wouldn’t want this to happen to anybody”.

“Since I started talking about this, I know of four people who have tested positive for low-grade prostate cancer. And thankfully they can do something about it. That’s the message I want to get out there.”

He also knows how hard the past 18 months have been on his family.

“It’s tougher on them,” Sumner said.

“I’m going through the pain, but they are going through the mental torture of watching it all. I’m mindful that I am trying to stay positive, keep my head up. I promised my family I’d fight all the way. My latest motto is, ‘Head up, chest out, shoulders back, march forward and don’t look back’.

Perhaps no one player has had a greater impact on New Zealand football than Sumner. He played 105 times for the All Whites over a 12-year period, scoring 27 goals. He led the All Whites on the Road to Spain in 1982 and was the first Oceania player to score a World Cup finals goal. He won five league titles and a record six Chatham Cups, most of them with Christchurch United.

He coached Gisborne City for one season, 1987, when the club finished second in the national league and won the Chatham Cup for the only time in the club’s history.

He received FIFA’s highest honour — the Order of Merit award — in 2010 for services to football, on the back of the FIFA centennial merit award in 2004.

Sumner has endured an awful six months. This time last year he was feeling quite positive, as changes in diet and vitamin treatments had a profound impact on the PSA level in his blood. In September 2015, when his prostate cancer was first diagnosed, he had a PSA level of 9.7.

“At the time the urologist said there was nothing they could do . . . but my family gathered around me in what I call the spirit of September.”

By Christmas his PSA level was down to 0.2 (regarded as undetectable). Sumner enjoyed Christmas with his family and made some goals for 2016. He started radiation treatments. During his course, his wife Jude was also diagnosed with breast cancer.

Despite the challenges, Sumner also enjoyed the usual grandfatherly duties and got back into moderate exercise but was referred for more tests in May after some sharp pain in his ribs and back. A CT scan revealed the worst.

“They told me the cancer had spread to my back, ribs, liver and lymph nodes.” Sumner said.

“It was quite a shock . . . not something you are prepared for.”

Sumner has completed six rounds of chemotherapy as well as 39 radiation treatments. He downplays most things but admits the pain was “off the charts” at times.

“When they radiated the tumours in my back they told me my back had likely fractured due to the tumour expanding before reducing.

“It was unbelievable; the relayed nerve pain in my arm felt like someone had peeled back the flesh and poured acid into the wound. They were giving me morphine until I passed out. I don’t want anyone to go through that kind of pain, ever.”

All four of his adult children are back in Christchurch for Christmas, with two returning from Australia. The Sumner clan — including Steve’s newest grandchild, 10-month-old Stella — will spend time at a holiday home in Akaroa. And he’s setting goals for 2017, including November’s Queenstown half-marathon.

“It’s important to have some longer-term goals and believe you have some hope. You need to have that.”

STEVE Sumner knows time is running out.

The All Whites legend — arguably the most influential player in New Zealand’s football history and captain of the celebrated 1982 World Cup team — was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer in September 2015. He has defied the odds since then, and last Christmas his PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) count had reduced by a significant amount.

But in June, Sumner received shattering news — the cancer had spread to his back, ribs, lymph nodes and liver.

The 61-year-old has continued to fight but had another setback this week, when he found out the option for a nuclear medicine treatment method in Perth wasn’t feasible, after tests in Auckland led experts to conclude the radical treatment would not be effective for him.

“It was tough to take that news,” Sumner said.

“I had heard about some great results from those treatments. It doesn’t look too good for me and my options are drying out.

“I’ve been told it is a matter of weeks to months, not months to years. But you never know. I am going to keep fighting for my family, keep fighting like there is no tomorrow. I have to find another way now.”

Sumner is staying remarkably positive, epitomising the strength of character that has already seen him beat some predictions from medical professionals.

“I’m not going to sit here moping,” Sumner said.

“I’m happy to be told the truth but everyone wants an opening don’t they? Those four words, ‘You just never know’, mean so much now. They leave an opening of hope. I need to set a plan now about how I am going to attack this. It might have to be left field — some kind of ‘witches brew’ — we will come up with something. If anybody has any suggestions I would like to hear from them.”

In fact, he’s so keen to hear from people, he’s offered his email address: manowar@hotmail.co.nz

Even in his darkest hour, Sumner is thinking of others, encouraging people to “get tested, get checked, as I wouldn’t want this to happen to anybody”.

“Since I started talking about this, I know of four people who have tested positive for low-grade prostate cancer. And thankfully they can do something about it. That’s the message I want to get out there.”

He also knows how hard the past 18 months have been on his family.

“It’s tougher on them,” Sumner said.

“I’m going through the pain, but they are going through the mental torture of watching it all. I’m mindful that I am trying to stay positive, keep my head up. I promised my family I’d fight all the way. My latest motto is, ‘Head up, chest out, shoulders back, march forward and don’t look back’.

Perhaps no one player has had a greater impact on New Zealand football than Sumner. He played 105 times for the All Whites over a 12-year period, scoring 27 goals. He led the All Whites on the Road to Spain in 1982 and was the first Oceania player to score a World Cup finals goal. He won five league titles and a record six Chatham Cups, most of them with Christchurch United.

He coached Gisborne City for one season, 1987, when the club finished second in the national league and won the Chatham Cup for the only time in the club’s history.

He received FIFA’s highest honour — the Order of Merit award — in 2010 for services to football, on the back of the FIFA centennial merit award in 2004.

Sumner has endured an awful six months. This time last year he was feeling quite positive, as changes in diet and vitamin treatments had a profound impact on the PSA level in his blood. In September 2015, when his prostate cancer was first diagnosed, he had a PSA level of 9.7.

“At the time the urologist said there was nothing they could do . . . but my family gathered around me in what I call the spirit of September.”

By Christmas his PSA level was down to 0.2 (regarded as undetectable). Sumner enjoyed Christmas with his family and made some goals for 2016. He started radiation treatments. During his course, his wife Jude was also diagnosed with breast cancer.

Despite the challenges, Sumner also enjoyed the usual grandfatherly duties and got back into moderate exercise but was referred for more tests in May after some sharp pain in his ribs and back. A CT scan revealed the worst.

“They told me the cancer had spread to my back, ribs, liver and lymph nodes.” Sumner said.

“It was quite a shock . . . not something you are prepared for.”

Sumner has completed six rounds of chemotherapy as well as 39 radiation treatments. He downplays most things but admits the pain was “off the charts” at times.

“When they radiated the tumours in my back they told me my back had likely fractured due to the tumour expanding before reducing.

“It was unbelievable; the relayed nerve pain in my arm felt like someone had peeled back the flesh and poured acid into the wound. They were giving me morphine until I passed out. I don’t want anyone to go through that kind of pain, ever.”

All four of his adult children are back in Christchurch for Christmas, with two returning from Australia. The Sumner clan — including Steve’s newest grandchild, 10-month-old Stella — will spend time at a holiday home in Akaroa. And he’s setting goals for 2017, including November’s Queenstown half-marathon.

“It’s important to have some longer-term goals and believe you have some hope. You need to have that.”

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