Doing it his way
When he found a lump on the side of his neck after a swim at Newport Beach one morning, Mick Miller's life changed in an instant.
After a fortnight of scans, blood tests and two operations, the Elvina Bay resident was diagnosed with throat cancer. The eight-week stay at the Royal North Shore that followed was emotionally and physically gruelling - he lost 24kg, was unable to speak or eat and every day had to be strapped into a custom Kevlar mask for radiation treatment.
Going into hospital "a typical headstrong Australian male", Mick admits he had no choice but to surrender to the process. "I was really fortunate I had such a great medical team in there but it was scary to put myself in their hands," he says.
"I had to get myself completely and utterly present to be in that mask. The way it's designed you can't move your shoulders because you're pinned down on the table. So for 16 minutes every day at 2.15pm, I had to lie there and go, well this is what's happening - you can't panic about your breathing, you just have to surrender. It was pretty challenging."
Before his diagnosis, Mick had an impressive career as a conditioning coach for elite athletes and had been preparing for his seventh Olympics in Rio.
"My job was basically to get them in the right head space so they can get out there and achieve what they wanted to achieve," he explains.
Sitting on his hospital bed, Mick found himself having to follow his own advice and get through one of the toughest mental challenges imaginable.
"The more I looked around, there were people doing a lot harder than me in there," he explains. "I realised I can shuffle to the door, I can get out of bed, I can shower, I can blink, I can breathe. I just kept rewarding myself every 10 minutes for all the things I could do rather than thinking about what I couldn't."
Amazingly, Mick embraced the experience as an opportunity to simplify his life. Once out of hospital, he decided to take his trusty 1968 VW Beetle ("The Rocket") on a 14-month roadtrip around the country.
"I was able to just completely gather so many things from what I saw, what I heard, and the people I met. There was no clutter or information coming in my head. It was bliss," he says of the trip that saw him clock up more than 15,000km around the perimeter of Australia in his trusty steed.
"The Beetle just brought so much joy and happiness wherever it went. There were always people around it - I couldn't get out of it sometimes because there'd be a queue of people waiting to talk about the car!"
And when he came back, Mick worked with author Robyn Ford to compile a beautiful book, Travelling Australia Mick's Way, to share his adventures and raise funds to support cancer patients and their families post-treatment through the Tomorrow Trust.
"The pure joy of people buying the book and contacting me and saying they love it and thank you so much has been amazing," he adds. "It's selling really well and I believe it's just the energy that's been put out with it."