David Furner and his wife Kellie, who has been fighting breast cancer. Photo: Lyn Mills
RAIDERS coach David Furner used to consider himself tough under pressure, until he watched his wife Kellie have a double mastectomy for breast cancer in February this year.
Furner has endured the most intense season of his NRL coaching career, surviving mid-season calls for his sacking to incredibly guide the Raiders from the bottom of the ladder to the NRL finals.
But Furner has revealed the private pressure on his family this year that became his own personal inspiration - wife Kellie's ongoing battle with cancer.
A legend of 200 first-grade games with the Canberra Raiders, Furner said he'd never been more inspired than by watching his high school sweetheart's strength this year.
''I've played a lot of football, you go through a lot of injuries and operations,'' Furner said.
''But I watched Kel and, to be quite honest, I don't think I could have gone through that. She's inspired me.''
Kellie Furner lost her mother to breast cancer at the age of 45.
But the couple, who have been together since they were 16 and have three children, were shocked when Kellie consulted a Canberra doctor early this year.
''She was advised, in these exact words: 'If you were my wife I'd be getting the double mastectomy straight away','' Furner said.
Just weeks prior to the kick-off of the NRL season, Furner was by his wife's side when she underwent the operation in Sydney. Due to hormonal cancer, she has since had her ovaries removed too.
''I've always relied heavily on Kellie, she's got tremendous strength, she's been tremendous with our family and the kids. It was probably the first time my wife had to rely solely on me, I just felt it was where I needed to be,'' Furner said.
''There was a time there in the pre-season, I said to the players, I've got to go to Sydney. I didn't really give them the details, I just said I'd be away for four or five days.
''It was probably the best four or five days, it put a lot of things in perspective. When you talk about the pressure of the job and going into the season, I think I was ready for anything really, through the strength of my wife.''
Furner was able to complete this season with the support of his family. His mother, Marion, moved into their home to help look after the kids, aged 10 to 19, during the NRL season.
Although there was public and media pressure for Furner to be sacked as Raiders head coach mid-season, Furner said that standing down ''would have felt like quitting''.
He has discussed with Kellie the possibility he may need to stand down for her health, but she remains his biggest supporter.
''I wouldn't think twice [about standing down] because my family comes first,'' Furner said.
''But that's part of Kel's strength, she believes in what I do and how hard I work, and she believes that I could get this team back to where it was. She was positive.
''I never lost focus on the team, it actually made me more driven and more clear to try and be successful. She's taught me a lot and probably made me a better coach in handling pressure situations.''
Furner prefers to keep his personal life private, but he agreed to this story to show his wife's strength as an inspiration for others. And he has been a long-term ambassador for the Eden-Monaro Cancer Support Group.
''She's on the mend, there's a couple more operations to go,'' he said.
''I think in the back of my wife's mind there is her mum - she got to a situation they thought they got it all [the cancer], so there's still that.
''But Kel's super-positive and for any family that goes through this situation I think it brings you a lot closer. It makes you a lot stronger.''