Grant’s story

My name is Grant Mundell. I’m 48; I have two beautiful daughters aged 14 and 12, a wonderful wife and a job I love. I’m so grateful for the life I have, because a few years ago I was diagnosed with a GI cancer called neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) – and my world fell apart.

It all started in 2008. I just felt a bit off and eventually, I went to see my GP. It turned out I had elevated calcium levels, caused by a benign tumour in one of my parathyroid glands. It was removed, and I thought that was the end of my health scare.

It turned out to be just the beginning. A few years later, my elevated calcium levels returned, again caused by multiple benign tumours in my parathyroid. My GP thought it was strange the tumours had returned and sent me for more scans.

I vividly remember getting the call from my Endocrologist, saying, “I think you need to come in and see me tomorrow.”

At that point, my wife and I realised something was wrong. But nothing had really prepared us for the news we received – doctors had found a huge tumour enveloping my pancreas, and more in my liver. I had Stage 4 NETs.

It’s hard to really describe the shock I felt. I was only 39 years old and in the prime of life. I was fit and active and I had no history of cancer in my family. I couldn’t really believe what was happening to me.

But the truth hit me in that moment – cancer can strike anyone. Even relatively young and healthy people like me. Suddenly, the life I thought I was living vanished.

It’s how I came to learn about the incredible and important work being done by the GI Cancer Institute in Australia. As a patient, I can tell you that when you are faced with a cancer diagnosis, you can feel very, very alone. Support networks become very important and nothing matters more than knowing that someone is working on finding answers that could help you.

Though it was a shock, by the time I walked out of my doctor’s office, I had already resolved that I wasn’t going to let NETs get me down. I was going to face my ordeal with a positive attitude, no matter what.

That resolve was sorely tested in the months and years that followed.

My diagnosis took over my life. I had to take leave from work and undergo chemotherapy, followed by targeted radiotherapy. It was pretty gruelling. I felt knocked around a lot, so there was a lot of sleeping and lying on the couch. When I had radiotherapy, I couldn’t even go near my children for about 24 hours, because of the radiation. That was hard for them to understand, too.

Most of all, as someone who had been a fit, active parent, I hated not being able to shoulder my share of the load. Suddenly, my wife was left with the burden of two young children aged just three and five – and with me to look after too.

There was an upside to the treatment – my tumours shrank enough that I could have surgery. The downside was that the surgery removed my pancreas, part of my liver and stomach, part of my lower bowel, as well as my spleen and adrenal gland.

I spent six weeks in hospital, and many months in recovery afterwards. This part of my cancer journey was particularly hard and the effects are permanent. I’m now a Type 1 diabetic and the partial removal of my stomach means I can’t eat much and have trouble digesting food.

I feel incredibly lucky to be alive but I can’t deny that the impact on my physical and mental health has been huge. There were times, especially when I was recovering after the operation, when I just didn’t want to go on.

And for so many NETs patients, treatment goes on for years. NETs can be a slow growing cancer – and in patients like me, where the cancer has spread, it’s often incurable. I still have a few small tumours in my liver they couldn’t reach, so I have regular scans and checkups to watch how they respond.

When I was really sick, all I wanted was for life to be normal. Not extra-special – just dinner with the family, a Saturday sports game, it’s-time-to-mow-the-lawn kind of normal. You just don’t realise how precious that is until it’s taken away from you.

Knowing researchers are actively looking for better, safer, more bearable treatments can make all the difference in the world.

I never forget that I’m alive because of medical research and I’m so thankful that I get to spend more years with the people I love. I try not to sweat the small stuff and I take every opportunity to embrace the things I really enjoy.

But now I know the devastating impact GI cancer can have on people’s lives, I’m determined to do what I can to help researchers make progress.

I recently joined the GI Cancer Institute Board of Directors, believing in the importance of clinical trials, our amazing local medical research communities and continually aiming to improve future cancer patient outcomes.

Thank you to Grant for dedicating his time and expertise with us, and not only making our research more robust, but also more relevant and accessible to people with GI cancers.

Learn more about NETs