Tess Nichol is an NZME. News Service reporter.

Cancer mates meet again

Rugby adversaries last met when they were battling leukaemia as preschoolers.
Harris (left) and James were both diagnosed with and beat leukaemia as preschoolers. Carmen Bird Photography
Harris (left) and James were both diagnosed with and beat leukaemia as preschoolers. Carmen Bird Photography

The last time 11-year-old Auckland schoolboy Harris Barfoot saw his friend James Slyfield they were both in Starship hospital battling leukaemia.

But now the only fight is the one on the rugby field, battling it out to see whose team could score the most tries.

Harris and James, 10, found themselves face to face for the first time in years when their Auckland junior rugby teams were scheduled to play each other about three weeks ago.

"It was quite a shock - like, 'holy crap, there's James and Harris in the front row together'," said Harris' dad, Jarrod Barfoot.

"It was quite a surprise."

The boys were both diagnosed with and beat leukaemia as preschoolers, meeting for the first time in Starship hospital while receiving treatment in 2009.

Their families bonded during that difficult time, but lost touch after the boys were discharged a couple of years later.

After that first game the families made plans to have a cuppa the next time their sons' teams were scheduled to play each other, catching up after last Saturday's game.

"It was like no time had passed," Mr Barfoot said.

"When you go through something like that and you see someone else who has gone through it, they know what you've been through anyway so you don't have to dwell on the past, you can both just feel it."

For Mr Barfoot, the reunion was testament to how far the boys had come since that first meeting.

Harris (left) and James were both diagnosed with and beat leukaemia as preschoolers. Carmen Bird Photography
Harris (left) and James were both diagnosed with and beat leukaemia as preschoolers. Carmen Bird Photography

"It was such an amazing thing to see two kids who had been through such a rigorous treatment, 100 per cent healthy and playing."

Both boys play front row forward for different clubs, James for the College Rifles and Harris for Pakuranga Rugby Club.

"We became very good friends and we hadn't seen each other in ages," said James' mum, Alison Slyfield.

"Then three weeks ago the boys [were] propping against each other. We were all delighted to see each other."

At first the boys didn't recognise each other - four years is a long time when you've only just cracked double digits - but in no time they were "chatting away," she said.

She too couldn't help but think how different things were now, and how proud she was of her son.

"When we saw them that first game I sort of, I had a day reflecting on how cool it was that we'd met them in hospital and now here they are, two healthy boys playing rugby against each other like nothing was ever wrong," Mrs Slyfield said.

"I had a really cool day thinking about all of that."

She said the two families planned to catch up again soon - "but next time we thought we'd have a wine".

- NZ Herald

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