EVERY morning former Rosewood High School student, Wing Commander Nathan Draper wakes up and conducts a BIT check on himself.
“A Built-In-Test – just like our aircraft do,” he said.
“Seeing what is fully mission-capable or only partially. And you’re hoping for all green systems, then you jump up and into the day.”
It’s a habit borne of his engineering head that, until recently, was used in military planning and operations in the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) program.
These days, Nathan’s body gives more yellow and red alerts than green.
He has outlived his prognosis of 12 to 16 months for a rare form of brain cancer known as Glioblastoma Multiforme grade 4, which he was diagnosed with in late 2019.
“I’m still here three years on,” Wing Commander Draper said. “I’m not in a good position right now, but I remain exceptionally lucky. And I’m grateful to have had this extra time.”
In the beginning, he was angry. He had tried to be the best person he could, working hard on his health and fitness and dedicating his professional life in service of his country.
He still gets emotional, but mostly he tries to remain positive. Now, Nathan talks about cancer as a very equitable disease.
“It passes no judgement, and it has no boundaries,” he said. “You could be Mother Teresa and still get it.”
At just over 50, he has spent most of his life in the Air Force.
He joined at 16 as an airframe fitter, following in his father’s footsteps. His grandfather and grandfather’s brother fought in Milne Bay in WW2.
Nathan started out working on F-111s in 482 Squadron and 6 Squadron. At age 26, he returned to his old high school, Rosewood State High School, to finish Year 12 so he could pursue an engineering degree.
Deputy Program Director Defence ERP Air Commodore Damien Keddie, who was Director General of the Joint Strike Fighter Program, said Nathan has faced his cancer with courage.
“He has been an inspiration to all of those who know him and he will be greatly missed from the ERP Program and the wider Air Force and Defence family,” Air Commodore Keddie said.
Nathan paid tribute to the enormous support he has received from his family and Defence. In particular, he cited Air Commodore Keddie and his wife Wing Commander Suzanne Keddie for rallying the Joint Strike Fighter team when he was first diagnosed.
Their two families, friends and colleagues took part in the Walk-4BrainCancer in Canberra in 2019. Air Commodore Keddie plans to participate again in November.
There have been no improvements in brain cancer treatment in 30 years, according to Nathan.
“I joined Air Force close to 36 years ago – if I had got this cancer in 1987, I would be having the same treatment back then,” he said.
Walk4BrainCancer aims to raise awareness and funds to find a cure; a cause Nathan has advocated for since his diagnosis.
The benefits of his efforts will be reaped by others – a continuation of his life of service.
“I think it’s who we are. I’d really expect no different from all of us in Defence,” he said.
“That’s why I feel compelled to just try and help.”
Walk4Brain Cancer Canberra is happening on November 13, with a virtual walk on November 27.
To join or to learn more, visit: walk4braincancer. com.au