“I’m sorry Gary, but I have to tell you that you have cancer.” I went dizzy and nearly blacked out. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I walked out of the doctor’s rooms and back to my car, slumped into the driver’s seat and cried.
“Why was this happening to me, how did it happen – don’t these things only happen to other people,” I thought. I imagine many of you reading this can look back and remember a very similar experience.
It was just over five years ago that my doctor said those words, and it changed my life. I guess we all handle such news in different ways and I will admit for the first four or five weeks I was a considerable mess. But then something changed within me, and with the support of family and friends I became mentally strong and told myself I could beat this.
I met with my oncologist who told me that my disease was known as Non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma. I apparently was regarded as a risk level four with 15 tumours spread throughout my lymph system. I was advised there was no cure as such and that even if we could remove all of the tumours there was a 95% chance they would return within a couple of years or so.
Furthermore I was told the average survival rate was around 10 years. It was pretty sobering news, and I had some very difficult times in those first few months.
I found the Cancer Care Centre invaluable in those early days with the availability of counsellors, the library, the Warrawong retreats, and just the caring nature of the people who were involved.
Seven months of chemotherapy and mabthera treatments followed, and I was given the news that all of the tumours had been removed. I began to hold on to the belief that if there was a 95% chance the tumours would come back, then there was a one in 20 chance that they would not – and I started to fully believe that I was the one in 20, and I would not consider anything else.
The chemo finished in January 2007 and it took a lot out of me. For the next 12 to 18 months or so I didn’t really have much energy and just kind of plodded along with everything in my life. My six-monthly check-ups caused me a lot of anxiety but the signs were positive. I made some major changes – I think in those early days I must have juiced 1000 carrots!! I did try to go pretty much organic, particularly fruit and veggies and I cut out all junk food, all soft drink and pretty much anything white – white bread, white sugar, white flour, white rice, and cut back on dairy and red meat. Lots more fruit and veg and organic green tea. These days though I still find room for a good glass of red (or two) and some yummy dark chocolate, and am not quite so rigid in my choices.
In July 2008, on my birthday, a great friend of mine challenged me to run the City to Bay with him – after a few reds 12km seemed like it would be easy!! Two weeks later I realised I needed to get fit and I went across the road to the park and joined a local fitness group – and I haven’t looked back since.
I have done the last three City to Bay fun runs and am now down to 55 mins and aiming for 52 mins this year. I also joined the lycra- brigade! With a couple of my mates, I have done the last two Tour Down Under rides. I also recently completed my first half-marathon in 1hr 46mins and now have this silly idea of doing a marathon next year – subject to my knees reaching agreement on that! Anyway, five years later I’m very happy to say that I am still going strong with no sign of anything nasty. I am lucky – three of the people who went through the same treatment as me have all unfortunately passed on.
My oncologist now tells me that my blood levels are better than his and I’m in a good space.
I believe that stress was a big factor in getting this disease, and as I have changed a lot of things, I have tried to pretty much remove the stress. I also believe that a strong positive mind can be the ‘make or break’ – you MUST believe you will be OK. Some people will say that if you can come through it and at the same time make positive changes in your life – then maybe it can become a blessing. Perhaps it can! And if you, or someone you know, may be going through something similar to this now, then just maybe something here might provide a little hope or inspiration for the battle.