Wayne Smith wasn’t at the New Zealand Rugby Awards last month to accept the Steinlager Salver for exceptional service to the game.
Just three days before, on December 11, his prostate was removed after cancer tumours had been discovered.
The 60-year-old, who left the All Blacks last year after a glittering career as a player and coach over a 37-year arc, was thrilled and humbled by the service award.
Last Wednesday there was more exciting news. His surgeon Michael Holmes rang from Hamilton to say the pathology report on the prostate had been completed, and it indicated that, most probably, Smith had been cured. There was no sign of any cells being left behind.
Speaking exclusively to Stuff.co.nz and keen to share his story to raise awareness, Smith said that his local doctor in Cambridge, Waikato, had detected abnormalities.
“I was getting the blood tests about every six months,” he explained. “It was high PSA [prostate specific antigen] levels that initially alerted the doctor.
Smith spoke to his wife, Trish, and made the decision to keep his predicament secret.
“We had a wee chat. I said: ‘Look, it’s curable, so let’s take our time, get a few tests.’ I had a bit of footy to coach, so I was trying to juggle both things, and tried not to think about it too much really.
“Through the Rugby Championship I knew I had it, but I didn’t really talk to anyone [on the All Blacks staff]. The only one was the team doctor, Tony Page, and I didn’t even tell him.
“I just said I was struggling to sleep, and he gave me some great advice: ‘Just think about the past, not the future, then your mind won’t be too active.’
“That was great, because sometimes I had been lying there at night thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ But after talking to Tony I was able to handle it pretty well. The urologist wasn’t too worried because it was pretty slow moving. That was the line I took.”
Opting for surgery, Smith had a pre-operation CT scan that, thankfully, showed that the cancer was restricted to his prostate. After going under the knife for a prostatectomy on December 11, he has been delighted with the results.
“It easier than some of the rugby injuries I’ve had. I was out of the hospital after a day and a half, at home walking around and recovering really early.”