When Desley Mackenzie sits in the stands of Patersons Stadium tomorrow, every move by her son Eric will bring a Mother's Day blessing.
The Weekend West can reveal that not only did the West Coast defender survive a freak pre-teen hockey accident that left him battling to breathe, but his mother has also conquered two separate bouts of cancer to remain her son's No.1 fan.
Mackenzie, who will again play a key role in tomorrow's match against Greater Western Sydney, faced an uncertain health future after being struck in the head by a hockey stick when he was in Year Seven.
"He had medical issues and couldn't even run around the block," his emotional mum said yesterday, wearing a club badge featuring her son's image.
"We both went through a journey then for about 20 months of seeing eight different specialists and all sorts of things.
"We weren't sure what was wrong with him, but it ended up being the hit in the head from a hockey stick and he also had a virus so they weren't sure what was affecting him.
"It was bizarre and took a lot of heads together to work out what it was. Every time we went to a specialist, he said to Eric, 'Now, you don't have to do this'. They put him through a barrage of tests with every inch of his body hooked up to various machines at different times.
"But he wanted to play football. It's very special to see it now. It's been such a journey … with all the highs and lows right through."
Desley was diagnosed with endometrial cancer the day before Eric was drafted by West Coast in 2006. It had been a day of emotional turmoil, with the family convinced he would be heading to an interstate club, possibly Hawthorn. But six years after surviving the disease that killed her mother, Desley was thrust into a new battle with breast cancer and endured a double mastectomy in 2012.
Now "robustly healthy" again, she was cherishing her son's AFL ride. But she said watching from her hospital bed that year as Fremantle captain Matthew Pavlich booted eight goals while opposed to her son in a 65-point win for the Dockers hadn't been easy.
"Every time they mention Pav getting a bucket-load of goals on Eric, I think back because I was in hospital with a failing liver and having had massive surgery," she said.
"Eric doesn't have to give me a Mother's Day present because I've just been getting it back in spades. I've been through the wringer a couple of times, but watching Eric achieve at this level is just lovely because it's been a tough time for all of us."
Mackenzie said the health issues suffered by him and his mother had added perspective to his life as a footballer. But it had taken time for her to understand his passion for what she saw only as a "silly, rough game".
"Mum's a Queenslander and she didn't even know what football was," he laughed.
"So when I asked for my first football, she didn't really know what to do. I used to play footy to get out of music lessons because she used to schedule it for Saturday mornings."
Mackenzie said despite having lost their past four games, the Eagles were still bullish about their 2014 prospects.
"Hopefully we get to the bye with a win (over the Giants), get the ledger square and then just work on things from there," he said.
"It's a very even competition this year, there's probably a couple of teams who are a step above everyone else, but from about four to 12 it could be anyone making finals."
Mackenzie also said he was ready to step up his role when captain Darren Glass, who had been a key figure in his own development, retired - a move that could come as early as the end of this year.
"The succession plan is in place," Mackenzie said.
"Throughout the whole squad we've got a lot of strong leaders who are ready to step up and take over when he does decide to finally hang up the boots and down back we've got a lot of depth.
"I probably would have been chucked in the deep end a lot quicker without him, but he's been great and a big help to me and the whole playing group."