THE toughest year of Lachlan Jackson's life has produced his greatest achievement.
Born deaf, the 23-year-old Hamilton basketballer had worked overtime on his game to earn selection in the Newcastle Hunters State League team and the Australian Deaf "Goannas".
Just when he should have been flying high, the 201-centimetre centre's world came crashing down in March when his mother, Tracy, was told she had breast cancer.
A three-time national representative since his first Goannas selection in 2011, Jackson briefly considered quitting the sport he loves so that he could be by his mother's side.
But, encouraged and inspired by Tracy's successful battle to beat cancer, Jackson kept playing and has just returned from Taiwan with a gold medal around his neck as a member of the Australian team that won the Asia-Pacific Deaf Games.
"It was the best feeling in the world," Jackson said.
"It was absolutely incredible - I'll never, ever forget it.
"In 2012 we played at the Asia-Pacific Games in Korea and won bronze out of four teams, but there were a lot of us just starting and we were only 18 or 19, so we decided to stick together and work hard and keep building up.
"In 2013 at the Deaf Olympics at Bulgaria we came equal 10th, then this year at the World Championships we came ninth and beat Poland - and they were the first European team we've beaten - then we've just come back from the Asia-Pacific Games and won gold."
That euphoria was a far cry from the despair he felt seven months earlier.
"After I made rep with the Hunters State League team, Mum got diagnosed with breast cancer, and that was the biggest thing that ever hit me," he said.
"Mum had to stop working and it was very difficult on her personally, and I thought about maybe quitting, but I wanted to keep playing because I'd made it from being a really terrible player to improving and making rep, because I never thought I would make it that far.
"I thought of maybe missing out on going overseas, because it was 2½ weeks away and you want to be there to support your mum, but Mum said she wanted me to go."
Tracy leaned on the rest of her family because "I didn't want him to miss out".
"He's got two sisters, and my mum was here, too, so just knowing that he was over there, and I could watch him play online. That was fantastic," Tracy said.
"Just the life experience alone has been unbelievable."
The former Lambton High School student wore pink socks during State League games and, in a stirring show of solidarity, his Hunters teammates followed suit.
"I wanted to keep my mum with me when I'm playing, because she's always supported me," he said.
"Then [Hunters teammate] Matt Streatfeild came up with the idea that the team support me and what I was doing, so they all wore pink socks in every game for me. I told him that they didn't have to do that . . . so that was just unbelievable."
Tracy's eyes welled with tears at the first game the Hunters wore pink socks.
"It makes me tear up even now just thinking about it," she said. "He's come such a long way, and the deaf team has done him wonders, just to be with other young men in the same position. But also being picked in the hearing team for the Hunters, for the coach to give him a go, it's an incredible achievement."
As for her own fight, Tracy is "at the end stages".
"I'm finishing radiotherapy at the moment, but I've been through chemotherapy and a mastectomy so it's basically looking cancer-free," she said.
Jackson hopes to retain his Hunters spot next season and, on the international stage, is preparing for a tour of New Zealand with the Goannas and the 2017 Deaf Olympics in Turkey.
"I'm moderate to severe, which is 75 to 90 per cent, so if I took my hearing aids out, I wouldn't be able to hear very well," he said.
"With the Hunters, I wear my hearing aids. Obviously I need to, so I can hear what the coaches and players are saying, but in deaf basketball I have to take them out. You have to play deaf.
"In time outs you have to lip read, and that's difficult, but it's the same for everyone else."