For Norwood Football Club CEO James Fantasia, hearing the news that his wife Emma had cancer was life changing. This November, he’s sharing their story to support the thousands of South Australians whose lives have been turned upside down by those three words.
James has always been involved in football, starting with the Norwood Football Club as a player before moving to the Adelaide Crows as the Recruiting Manager, and then on to the Western Bulldogs as their General Manager for Football.
He met and fell in love with his wife Emma in Melbourne, and they returned to Adelaide to start their lives together. Their connection was instant and they became inseparable.
“Emma fell in love with little old Adelaide and it was great to see Norwood Football Club and my friends embrace her. She really loved it here.”
Barely six months after the happy couple made their move to Adelaide, Emma received a stage 4 cervical cancer diagnosis. The news came as a crushing blow for the couple. All the pain James felt for the loss of their future together came rushing out uncontrollably.
“That was a really hard time, there was almost a sense of inevitability about it. It really knocked me around. I call it living with death on your doorstep,” he said.
“As a man I was trying to protect my strength. But really you are dying on the inside. There were so many times that I’d hide myself from her, from the world, so I could have a cry. She was already going through so much, I didn’t want her to see me cry. I also felt like I couldn’t share it with anyone, I didn’t want to bring them so low.”
James witnessed Emma go through brutal chemotherapy treatment and countless visits to hospital and specialists.
When the treatment ended, they celebrated. However Emma’s cancer soon returned, and continued to interrupt their lives together, taking away time and control.
Desperate to make the most of their time, Emma and James decided to elope in Second Valley, where they also got engaged.
James remembers it as the most beautiful day. Everything was about Emma. He loved it, every second. But it was hard. In the back of his mind, even in the most joyful moments there was an inevitability on their doorstep the whole time.
Not long after they eloped, Emma collapsed at work, with the CT scan revealing nine tumours on her brain. She started cancer treatment again, this time more aggressive. James said it changed her personality in front of his eyes.
“It’s like watching someone dying in front of you day by day. In the last two weeks of her life I was just picking her up out of her wheelchair.”
“You don’t realise at the time that it’s the end, you’re still hoping for recovery. There is such a sense of helplessness but you’re trying everything. All you want is more time.”
Emma passed away in October 2021. The experience changed James forever, and he credits support from Cancer Council SA for helping him get through.
“Cancer Council SA has this ability to reach out to people in need and provide a support mechanism, and that comes in a number of forms. It’s that personal touch, the people behind the scenes that are driving the research that will hopefully one day find a cure.
“I felt a lot more supported than I ever thought I could have by being associated with Cancer Council SA.”
“Through Cancer Council SA leading the charge, continued advancements in prevention and research will lessen the brutality of cancer treatments, and give others more time with their loved ones that I so desperately wanted with Emma.”
Cancer Council SA Chief Executive Kerry Rowlands said that James’ story is a reminder of the harsh realities of cancer.
“James is so brave, and in sharing their story, which shows the brutal reality of a cancer diagnosis, it also motivates us to do better.”
“Though the support of the South Australian community, we will work every day to reduce the impact and burden of cancer on South Australians and their families.”
To hear and read more about James and Emma’s story and make a donation to Cancer Council SA visit the website here.
Interviews with James can be arranged on request by contacting Communication Manager Natasha Baugh on 0400 855 244.