In a race with time, Kelly Hutton is making the most out of life.
Exactly a year after she was told she had advanced ovarian cancer, the pioneer Canterbury Flames netballer crossed the finish line of the Queenstown half marathon.
The month before, she’d walked the best part of 12 hours dressed as a hot dog, and won gold at a Masters netball tournament.
And she’s keeping up her fitness, training every other day in a homemade gym alongside Silver Ferns shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit.
So impressive for a woman who endured major surgery and six rounds of chemotherapy this year.
“It was nice to tick the half marathon off,” Hutton says. “It was really hard, but I kept reminding myself, there’s a reason why I’m doing it. And I’d remember lying in bed in March when it seemed such an unachievable goal.”
In April, we introduced you to Hutton’s heart-wrenching but inspiring story. It would become the most read story in LockerRoom in 2020.
Last year, Hutton was happy working in Bahrain, and captaining the Bahrain national netball team. Around the time of her 45th birthday, she became overwhelmed with exhaustion and had an unrelenting pain in her side, but managed to keep playing sport.
Then a CA125 blood test, which helps diagnose ovarian cancer, showed her tumour markers were “through the roof”. Surgeons discovered advanced stage 3 cancer galloping through her abdomen.
So, Hutton came home to Christchurch with her mother and sister, former Southern Steel netballer Megan Hutton, by her side to face aggressive treatment – made tougher by going through it in Level 4 lockdown.
But since her last chemotherapy in May, Hutton has been building up her strength again. She’s been tackling walking tracks, like the Tora Coastal Walk in the Wairarapa, and training in the gym a friend built in her garage, which they call “Jo’s Box”. Selby-Rickit – working towards her second season with the Mainland Tactix – is training there too.
“Te Paea is cracking into it. And I figure if I can keep up with her, I’ll be doing okay,” Hutton says. “My body is getting used to it, and I’m not sleeping as much as I had to before.”
Her only real setback has been a torn meniscus in her knee.
“I started running and really enjoyed it. But then I fell in a bloody hole,” she laughs. “There’s probably a bit of degeneration in there from netball too.” She’s going to have knee surgery next.
It meant she had to walk the 21.1km, alongside the Shotover and Kawarau rivers, to achieve the goal she’d set herself after her third debilitating round of chemo. Her other sister, Lisa, and friend Nicola McNally walked alongside in her support. And she needed it.
“After the first kilometre, I wasn’t feeling well. I’d got a little bit carried away the week before and hard with a few training walks,” Hutton says. “But it was a cool thing to do. Next year, I want to run it.”
All her walking and working out is helping Hutton stay on top of her health. “It makes me feel like the old me isn’t quite lost yet,” she says.
“It’s been most important from a mental perspective, because every time something went wrong in the past [the death of her dad and young nephew, and the Christchurch earthquakes], the first thing I did was go for a run. So I want that outlet back.”
Hutton had a “cracking early Christmas present” with her three-monthly oncology check-up a fortnight ago.
“My bloods were better than ever, and my CA125 test is the lowest it’s ever been. I’m the most ‘cancer-free’ I have been since this whole nightmare started,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
But Hutton is under no illusion that the cancer has been beaten.
“It’s a loaded gun. It will come back. My oncologist said: ‘Remember it’s not going to be like this every time’,” she says.
Her body is “still a wreck” from the chemotherapy, and she’s been suffering with the symptoms of menopause since her ovaries were removed.
“And then there’s the real mental mind games, which have been much harder than I thought. There’s the threat of it recurring hanging over your head and you realise how much you’ve had to give up in your life,” she says. “My life is very different from a year ago.”
But she’s not dwelling on it. She’s walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track in the New Year and then the Banks Track on the Banks Peninsula mid-January. “I’m looking at doing the Milford Track at the end of January, but that may be too much,” she says.
Hutton may look to coach a school netball team next season, with Selby-Rickit offering to be her assistant coach. Hutton has the pedigree, having played for Canterbury and the original Flames side in 1989 – when the Coca Cola Cup introduced semi-professional netball to New Zealand – and captaining the New Zealand indoor netball team.
She’s become somewhat of a crusader in the fight against cancer – she was “honoured” to be asked to speak at the Cancer Society Ball in Christchurch (postponed by Covid-19). And she raised $8100 in the Relay of Life Otautahi with her team, the Hutton Sizzlers (hence the hotdog suit).
The Hutton Sizzlers also won gold in netball at the South Island Masters Games, the team including former Silver Ferns shooter Angela Mitchell.
Hutton organised the team, but with her bad knee, didn’t take the court often. “I put myself at goal shoot, and just put my hand up for the ball,” she laughs.
“But I’d love to play again one day. Never say never.”