As Geoff Nyssen, a towering figure in a bright orange t-shirt with a loud hailer in hand, marshaled hundreds of walkers and runners near the start line, no one would have suspected his cancer has returned.
The organiser of the MY Mt Eliza Run & Fun Festival this month was a ball of enthusiastic energy at the event he founded in 2017 to raise funds for the battle against Myeloma, the terminal blood cancer he was diagnosed with four years ago.
The event, which Ryman Healthcare has supported since its inception, is a public symbol of Geoff’s personal fight against the disease.
“It’s something that I can do. I’m not working at the moment so it’s something I can do at my pace… and helps give me purpose,” he says.
“I see the benefits it gives to the community and the fact that it raises a great amount of money and awareness for Myeloma Australia, I find that very rewarding.”
And Geoff isn’t the only one finding the MY Mt Eliza Run & Fun Festival rewarding, with around 800 people attending the event, including 600 registered participants.
Among them were more than a dozen Ryman Healthcare staff, who ran the barbecue, manned water stations and offered words of encouragement to participants as they made their way around a 5km or 10km course at Mt Eliza Regional Park.
Residents from Ryman’s Weary Dunlop retirement village also got involved, including Wendy and Bill Bould.
The Boulds made the day a family affair, bringing along their two granddaughters, their granddaughter’s husband, their great-grandson and the family dog to walk with them around the course.
It was the second year Wendy and Bill had participated in the MY Mt Eliza Run and Fun Festival.
“It was really good, we enjoyed it. It was a nice day for a walk.”
Wendy said attending events like this was all part of maintaining the active lifestyle she and Bill have enjoyed since moving into Weary Dunlop four years ago.
Geoff says the event wouldn’t be possible without the support of organisations like Ryman Healthcare, led by Group Sales and Community Relations Manager Debbie McClure and Victoria Community Relations Team Leader Denise Thompson.
“Having Ryman supporting us with Debbie and Denise is just amazing – they’re two amazing people.
“They’ve very quickly gone from being sponsors to being friends. It makes a big difference in being able to put on the event with support of friends like them.”
Geoff says as he stood with Debbie on a hill overlooking all his different communities – Myeloma Australia, local residents, friends, sponsors - coming together at the festival he created it felt “very rewarding”.
“That’s what motivates me, what I hope to be a legacy-type event. It will stick in the minds of my kids and show people how to stare adversity down.”
It was a month after his 40th birthday when Geoff was diagnosed with Myeloma in 2014. The average age of those diagnosed with the disease is 70, so he is incredibly young to be affected by it.
He was told then that he had about 10 years to live, “but I don’t buy into that”.
Prognoses, Geoff says, are merely statistics calculated by looking at what’s happened to other people in the past.
“They’re backward-looking – with my mindset and my abilities I look forward. I’ll be dancing a jig at my 80th birthday and you’ll be invited to the party.”
He knows he has an almighty battle ahead of him to get there, though.
He’s gone through two stem cell transplants, the most recent one late last year with cells donated by his brother.
“The cancer is coming back. Before it takes hold we’ve got to rely on the stem cells taking effect or they’ll be more chemo.”
But before he looks too far ahead, Geoff is soaking up the satisfaction of pulling off another successful community event.
The importance of what he achieved hit home the night of the festival as he tucked in his two tired children, Georgia, 9, and 12-year-old son, Riley.
They were proud of their dad.
“They really felt part of the day. It was something my friends and I – my community – created for them.”