Jockey Bobby El-Issa says daughter and horse riding key elements in his bid to beat a rare cancer
March 31, 2016 6:57pm
Ray ThomasThe Daily Telegraph
Jockey Bobby El-Issa, with daughter Izabella, is returning to racing on Friday after a year-long battle with cancer. Pictu Richard Dobson
IN the darkest moments, when death came knocking, Bobby El-Issa drew strength and inspiration from the two great loves of his life — his daughter Isabella and a desire to return to race riding.
Doctors feared the worst as El-Issa struggled with the ravages of leukaemia but the jockey wasn’t ready to die.
“I was on my death bed a couple of times,’’ El-Issa told The Daily Telegraph on Thursday. “I had AML — acute myeloid leukaemia — which is one of the worst cancers you can get. It was pretty bad.’’
The jockey had a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. AML is a relatively rare disease that can occur at any age and around 900 Australians are diagnosed with the illness each year.
El-Issa was in the prime of his life, a jockey who prided himself on his fitness, and it wasn’t easy to accept he had been diagnosed with such a serious illness.
With such an acute cancer as AML, early treatment is the only cure.
Almost as soon as he was diagnosed, El-Issa underwent chemotherapy.
He had to endure four rounds of “chemo” is six months and the treatment took a heavy toll.
El-Issa’s weight plummeted to 35kg. The prognosis was not good — but he wasn’t about to give up. This was a race he had to win.
“When I was sick, when it got really bad, that is when I told myself there is no way in the world I was going to die,’’ El-Issa said. “I kept thinking of my little girl, Isabella.
“She is my life now and that is where I found the strength I needed to keep going. She is six years old and I want to be here for her. The horses are my other passion and my dream was to return to riding. That is what drove me to beat this.’’
El-Issa, a former two-time Sydney champion apprentice, was diagnosed in June of last year. Three months ago his doctors told him the cancer was in remission. He has defied the odds.
At Orange on Friday, El-Issa makes a low-key return to race riding.
It’s not Royal Randwick, it’s not The Championships, there is no $1 million races, but for El-Issa he has already won the biggest race of them all.
He has a second chance at life and is not about to waste it.
Bobby El-Issa, a former two-time Sydney champion apprentice, was diagnosed with the aggressive cancer in June of last year. Pictu Richard Dobson
Once the doctors gave him the all-clear, El-Issa went to the gym to regain his strength.
When he wasn’t working out, El-Issa helped his brothers in their thriving business, Knafeh Bakery — a pop-up bakery which operates out of a shipping container and has more than 50,000 followers on Instagram.
“Working with my brothers has helped to get me focused on other things apart from my illness,’’ El-Issa said. “The business is going really well and we are about to open in New York.’’
El-Issa has quickly regained his fitness and is already back to his riding weight of 52kg.
He began riding trackwork again three weeks ago. He spends two mornings a week at Royal Randwick where he rides for Gai Waterhouse and Team Snowden, then another two mornings at Warwick Farm.
El-Issa rode in 12 barrier trials late last week and felt he was ready to return to the races.
With his manager, former champion jockey Wayne Harris, they planned to take one ride at Orange on Friday — but he has been swamped with six rides.
Bobby El-Issa when his weight plummeted after chemotherapy. Pictu Annette Dew
“Everyone has said what are you doing, aren’t you going to ease back into it but I said no I’m going full steam ahead,’’ El-Issa said.
“I will be rusty for the first few meetings but I’m ready to come back,’’ El-Issa said.
“I’m going to ride the bush circuit for a few weeks then hit the provincials pretty hard. It’s been my dream to get back to Sydney racing so I’m pretty excited to be riding again.’’
El-Issa’s cancer is in remission now. He has won the fight but he is not dropping his guard.
“I keep telling myself after two years I can have a glass of champagne, after five year I can have a bottle,’’ the jockey said when asked about his prognosis.
“We all have hurdles in life, some are bigger than others, it is character-building.
“By the grace of God and my own strength, I’m good now. I had great support from my family and friends, any my little girl is always there for me — I feel pretty blessed.’’
BOBBY EL-ISSA — THE COMEBACK
Race 1 De Kurnell
Race 2 Four More Millers
Race 3 Oakwood Lady
Race 4 True Joy
Race 5 Metung Penny
Race 6 Celtic Diamond
Good Luck to The Bobster