‘Now I’ve got a lot of living to do’: Cystic Fibrosis sufferer who has defied his deadly disease for 47 years promised fellow suffers he would live life to the full to honour them
- Peter Oxford has cystic fibrosis and was told he would die before he turned five
- He is now 47 after beating the odds through life with the help of dance
- His group of patients made pact last one alive would live for the rest of them
- The last of them, his best friend Kirsty, died suddenly in 2013
- In a bittersweet twist of fate her death helped him meet his husband Andre
When he was 12 months old, doctors told Peter Oxford’s adoptive parents he wouldn’t live to see his fifth birthday.
Almost five decades later, the Sydney dance coach is celebrating his 47th birthday despite living with cystic fibrosis since he was a baby.
The entrepreneur defied a series of death sentences in his teens, 20s and 30s to become one of Australia’s oldest people living with the chronic disease.Mr Oxford as a baby when he was diagnosed with the deadly condition at 12 months
But his longevity is bittersweet as he watched a close-knit group of fellow patients he knew from childhood die one by one.
‘There were five of us originally, we met in Westmead Hospital as teenagers and we’d all hang out in one of our rooms at night after visiting hours were over,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Our conversations were always about what we would miss in life and we promised the last one left had to live for all of us.
‘I felt bad about hoping it would be me, but now I’ve got a lot of living to do because there’s a lot of people I promised.’
Mr Oxford defied the odds and became a dancer through his childhood to take his mind of the disease and stay fit
Mr Oxford was the first Australian to win the American Dance Championships and after his career ended he became a celebrated dance coach
The last one was his best friend since he was seven years old, Kirsty, who died suddenly in June 2013 while he was overseas, and didn’t find out until days later.
Mr Oxford was the first Australian to win the American Dance Championships and after his career ended he became a coach and in 1994 founded Showcase, Australia’s first national dance competition.
Hours after he discovered his lifelong friend was dead, he was due to host the Las Vegas Dance Awards red carpet.
‘I had to interview all these Hollywood celebrities live on air and act like nothing happened,’ he said.
‘I look at the photos today and can’t believe I found out she died just a few hours earlier.’
But he knew Kirsty would have wanted him to carry on and not let anyone down, so he held it together through the event.
‘I had to stay strong for everyone else and look strong, you can’t break down because if you break down I think that’s the end of you,’ he said.
‘We nearly lost her when she had a heart and lung transplant in 2007 so getting those extra six years with her was a bonus, and she knew that as well.’
Having missed Kirsty’s funeral and having no time to grieve, Mr Oxford couldn’t face coming back to Sydney to reality, so he jumped on a plane to Berlin.
‘I had to go back to a happy place, I needed to get away from everything and just reset before I could come home and deal with it,’ he said.
‘When I got on the plane to Germany my life changed, but I didn’t know it yet.’
While he was there he met an Air Berlin flight attendant named Andre who would become his defacto partner, and is convinced it was Kirsty’s doing.
‘Neither of us were supposed to be there, but she always told me she was going to find me someone, and in the end she did,’ he said.
‘Everything I described to Kirsty about what I wanted in a man was him.’
Four weeks later Andre flew to Sydney for a visit where they went to the beach, climbed the Harbour Bridge, and cuddled koalas.
They got engaged on the spot and in January 2014 married across the harbour from the Sydney Opera House, even though they knew it wasn’t legally binding.
‘I think having Andre in my life will help me live even longer, I can’t drag someone out of their own country and then die on them,’ Mr Oxford said.
Mr Oxford interviewing Geordie Shore’s Gary Beadle in 2013
Even as medical technology has advanced, cystic fibrosis is still a devastating condition affecting one in every 2,500 Australians.
Mr Oxford’s symptoms include frequent severe lung infections and bouts of pneumonia along with shortness of breath, tiredness, and lack of appetite.
The worst is when the blood vessels in a patient’s lungs burst and they start coughing up blood, which can lead to death.
‘Your lungs just burst, you think your whole world is going to end right there and then. I go into panic,’ he said.
‘The first time it happened I was 12 and thought I was going to die. Most recently was two years ago when I was in Singapore.’
Mr Oxford’s symptoms include frequent severe lung infections and bouts of pneumonia along with shortness of breath, tiredness, and lack of appetite
The closest he came to death was in 2004 when a bleed was so bad he was rushed to hospital for an emergency procedure to cauterise the blood vessels.
‘My apartment looked like someone had been murdered in it, I freak out now just thinking about it,’ he said.
To keep his condition in check, Mr Oxford inhales four different nebulisers in the morning and evening, which takes an hour each session, plus dozens of antibiotics, vitamins, enzymes and painkillers a day.
Dancing kept his mind off die predictions about his survival odds. He cried at his first lesson aged five but is still friends with people he met there.
‘To be a dancer you have to be fit and healthy and look good on stage so it keeps you active, and being in better shape which helps you live longer with CF,’ he said.
‘It also takes your mind off it, you’re living in a world of glitz and glam and making people happy, you don’t feel like you’ve got something wrong with you.’
Mr Oxford won the Chicago, Orlando and Las Vegas titles in a row and founded Showcase as Australia’s first national dance competition (pictured)
In its first year in 1994 it had just 400 acts, and by last year had more than 16,000 (pictured presenting one of the winners with their award)
Mr Oxford won the Chicago, Orlando and Las Vegas titles in a row and founded Showcase as Australia’s first national dance competition.
In its first year in 1994 it had just 400 acts, and by last year had more than 16,000.
But now his main focus is cystic fibrosis advocacy and he is promoting the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s 65 Roses Campaign this month which aims to raise funds and awareness of the condition.
‘I think it’s important to give kids with cystic fibrosis hope that it’s not a death sentence and they can live long lives like I have,’ he said.
Mr Oxford is also campaigning for the pancreatic enzyme Creon to be on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme’s list for free medications.
A bottle of 100 costs $40 and Mr Oxford said he takes about 20 a day, plus 20 other pills, and spends about $400 a month on medication.
‘Someone with CF has no choice, they have to take that drug. I don’t know how families can afford it,’ he said.