When my wife Branka was diagnosed with bowel cancer, she urged me to get tested to make sure that I was healthy for our two teenage daughters. The results were surprising: I had a diagnosis of signet cell adenocarcinoma — a rare and aggressive GI cancer with a survival rate below 10% because it’s mostly diagnosed too late. I was finally diagnosed with oesophageal cancer which left our family of four in shock.
I was completely astounded by the results, here I was a 44 year old man who felt and seemed healthy suddenly dealing with my wife’s diagnosis and then my own. I realised that the only way we were going to make it was to be strong for our daughters and take control of our journeys as cancer patients.
I started my journey by doing my own research, meeting multiple specialists, sought second opinions, consulted with cancer survivors, inspected hospital wards and facilities. I wanted to prepare myself for what I might go through, and ensure I’d get the best care available. To prepare myself for the surgery, I worked closely with my chosen surgeon and began physical and mental training. I adjusted my diet to ensure the best functioning of my other organs and to deliver the best outcome.
In May 2013, I underwent the highly invasive Ivor Lewis two-stage oesophago-gastrectomy, which included removing 10cm of my oesophagus and much of my stomach. I’m glad to say the results have been very positive, I’m healthy and strong, and back on the bike!
In a weird way I was lucky to have gone through the experience with Branka, as neither of us could pull the ‘cancer card’. If I was feeling sorry for myself, Branka could kick me in the butt and vice versa. We also made a ‘family deal’ with our daughters; that our job was to get better and theirs was to be normal teenagers. We wanted them to not get too stressed, to stay focused on their studies and keep up their sporting activities. That we’ll get through this together and that we’ll be open and transparent with them.
If it hadn’t been for my wife, I’m not sure what would have happened to me, as many of these GI cancers don’t show any symptoms, so it is crucial to be educated about these sinister cancers. I want to help empower cancer patients to take an active part in fighting the disease.
Branka and I rode our bikes to raise funds for the GI Cancer Institute in the Sydney Spring Cycle in October 2014. This year I am assisting the Institute as an advisor on its inaugural national GI Cancer Awareness Week, 27 April — 3 May 2015. I’ll be speaking at the Engage Community Forum at Epping, northwestern Sydney, on April 30 on “Survivorship”. I’m alive today because of research and my wife; I hope to motivate and educate others.