But when he told a bemused doctor that “I’m going to give myself an uppercut”, it was obvious he knew he was being “hard work” and needed to go home. He was discharged last Tuesday but not before he was scanned for evidence of his cancer.
On Friday, Tom and Trish visited his oncologist for the results. Two months earlier, the three of us met the oncologist who informed us the cancer had returned. Tom was told he could have no more radiotherapy and surgery was impossible because the insidious cancer, like a poisonous vine on a tree, was too close to the carotid artery in his neck. His last resort was to be accepted for an immunotherapy trial which he began shortly afterwards.
The highlighted sections of Friday’s report, showing comparisons to the March 12 scans, read: “The mass has reduced in size significantly … the nodules in the left perivertebral muscles have almost completely resolved.”
The doctor explained that the aim of the treatment was to stop the cancer growing, yet, miraculously, it had shrunk.
Tom and Trish both cried and he ate four chocolates, right there in the surgery. (Beer unavailable).
It is now the fourth time he has cheated death. He has endured testicular cancer; quadruple heart surgery and, a few years ago, cancer of his throat where he was given a one-in-three chance of surviving.
We should have known this man, all heart and hustle, would survive this. After all, it was close friend John Singleton who said of the earlier one in three odds battle: “I’d hate to be the other two bastards he has to beat to survive.”
How could we forget the come-from-behind victories he inspired on the football field, including the NSW versus Queensland match in Brisbane in pre-Origin days when Mortimer was selected as halfback and Tom was a reserve?
The Maroons were well ahead at half-time; Tommy replaced Turvey; ignited a brawl and the Blues came back to win. Even the first Origin match in 1980, when the NSW pack was weakened by withdrawals, Tommy, as captain, scored the final try in the 20-10 loss.
Ironically, Turvey was also inducted into the True Blues Hall of Fame at Monday night’s annual dinner, making them the 18th and 19th players to be so honoured.
Turvey was given warning of Tommy’s fierce competitive spirit ahead of that game where he was replaced at half-time. The NSWRL management allocated them the same room in a Brisbane hotel. Turvey, seven years younger but awarded the No.7 jumper, claimed the double bed. Tommy began throwing Turvey’s clothing out the hotel window until Mortimer shifted his case to the single bed and said, “Would you like a cup of tea, Mr Raudonikis?”
Tommy played 24 games for NSW as well as 29 Tests for Australia between 1971 and 1980, including two as Kangaroo captain. Mortimer played in seven interstate matches from 1977 to 1981, and then nine Origins from 1982 to 1985.
That included the breakthrough 1985 series when NSW rolled back the Maroon tide and the Blues won the series for the first time. The images of Mortimer collapsing to his knees in tears in sheer relief, and then being chaired from the field by his teammates, remain two of most enduring in Origin history.
Tommy didn’t make it to last night’s dinner, with Trish saying, “It would take too much out of him. But he was keen to go right up until about three weeks ago when he had the big setback.”
Like the Immortals concept, only playing records count towards induction into the Hall of Fame. But Tommy’s time as Blues coach for the 1997 and 1998 series fits the legend, immortalising the word “cattledog” forever after it became code for his players to break from a scrum and start a fight.
Through a raspy voice, he passed on a message to coach Brad Fittler’s 2019 Blues who attended the dinner: “If I can beat cancer three times, you blokes should be able to beat Queensland in three games.
“If you need a miracle to win in Brisbane, remember they always work best when you have a go.”
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.