Book Review: Nine Lives

Title: Nine Lives (Football, cancer and getting on with life)

Author: Adam Ramanauskas with Emma Quayle ( rrp $36.99)

Publisher: Penguin Viking

At the age of 25, and less than a month after marrying his childhood sweetheart, AFL footballer Adam Ramanauskas sat in his doctor’s office and was told that he had cancer. For the third time.

It’s because of this that his story is not your run of the mill sportsman’s story. We’ve all heard them; kid grows up in suburbia, excels at a number of sports, faces one or two obstacles, bounces back and then makes it to the big time. And Nine Lives – the new book of Ramanauskas’ story – has all of this too, but there’s something about it that appeals to a much wider audience than just sports fans. That something is Ramanauskas’ battle with cancer.

Cancer touches us all at some point in our lives. Even the fit and healthy are not immune. Adam Ramanauskas is testament to this. He was living the dream as an AFL footballer playing with the Essendon Football Club. He’d won a premiership in only his second year and was tipped to become a star of the future. But at the age of 22 he was first diagnosed with cancer after the chance discovery of an unusual lump on his shoulder.

From here, most people in the sporting world know something of the Ramanauskas story, but I doubt that many of them really know it. This is where Nine Lives is so good at both refreshing everyone’s memory and also taking us much closer to the challenges that were faced. We learn just how intense the cancer treatment was, we discover how close he came to losing his arm and we see how it felt like every time he got back up he would be cut down again. He must have wondered if he’d been walking under ladders when after the second treatment for cancer he came back to footy only to injure his knee, ruling him out of playing for yet another year. At the severe risk of running an overused cliché, this truly is an inspirational story.

The book is actually written by Melbourne journalist Emma Quayle. She is a senior sports writer with Melbourne’s The Age newspaper. Quayle pieces the story together through a wide range of interviews with Ramanauskas, his family, friends, teammates and doctors. In this format, the book misses the extra personal touch of champion cyclist Lance Armstrong’s seminal sports/cancer survival book It’s not about the bike. The reader can often be left wondering exactly what Ramanauskas is feeling during various parts of the story.

Yet Quayle does manage to extract plenty of insights from Ramanauskas, giving him a strong voice in enough parts of the story. His constantly resilient attitude is seen in such quotes as “you have to think about your mortality … you have to decide in your own heart and your own mind that you want to take it on. You have to believe that you can.” Ramanauskas mentions Quayle’s influence in his acknowledgements at the end of the book saying that she “managed to get the words out of me when I thought no one could.”

And the third person approach does have its advantages. Because of the extensive range of interviews, the reader gets a wider view of what’s happening and further insight into the people around Ramanauskas. In other words, we don’t just get his side of the story. It’s fascinating to hear how his teammates were moved during his illness, especially given the ‘tough guy’ veneer of football clubs. Best mate, teammate and sometime AFL strong man Dean Solomon reveals that Ramanauskas “saw me cry more than I saw him cry” during the cancer treatments.

Nine Lives is more than just another sporting tale. It’s a story of survival that will no doubt give inspiration to people who are presented with significant obstacles in their lives. Quayle has managed to capture a very sensitive story and cleverly share the lessons learnt by those in it.

About Ged McMahon

Ged McMahon has been a Bombers fan for as long as he can remember. With a Grandpa who grew up just a spiralling torpedo punt from Windy Hill he didn't have much choice. When his junior football career resulted in almost as many possessions as games he eventually had to bite the bullet and give up his dream of captaining the Bombers to a Premiership. So his weekly footy fix became confined to the stands. He yearns for the next Premiership.


  1. Greg McMahon says

    Solid review, must now put Nine Lives on the ‘to read’ list

Leave a Comment