On one very normal day in 2018, I suddenly started vomiting. I was 17 years old, playing state league division-one soccer and thriving at school with plans to move from my home of Busselton to Perth for university. The vomiting continued and so, after numerous visits to doctors for weeks with no answers, I moved to specialists for diagnostic testing. After an endoscopy and ultrasound revealed nothing, the doctors concluded it was “stress”. On the night of my soccer presentation, I vomited four times before even leaving for the event, so my mum decided to rush me to the emergency department at St John of God Hospital, Murdoch.
That night we met a doctor in the emergency department who goes by the name of Doctor Ganasezaram. He did the same tests all the previous doctors had done and got the same result. Baffled as to what was causing this random vomiting, he decided to scan my head, something no one had done or suggested yet. At about 1.30am, I went in for a CT scan. When they investigated the images, they found two medulla blastoma brain tumours, one at the back of my head in my cerebellum wrapped around my brain stem and one at the junction of my optic nerves. This second one, they said, was inoperable. That was the day, September 15, 2018, I was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Five days later, at 2pm, on the 20th September, I had emergency brain surgery. I was scared of the unknown and didn’t know what to think of it all as I had never been involved in anything like this before. I was put to sleep and the surgeon began the surgery which he later told me “was one of the most radical” he had ever performed. I died twice on the surgery table. Because the tumour was wrapped around my brain stem, it was extremely difficult to remove without causing any collateral damage.
After 12 hours under anaesthetic I woke to find I was unable to move, see or swallow. I was faced with learning to walk, swallow and see again, and specialists told me this could take up to 12 months to achieve. My weight reduced from 63kgs to 47kgs as I relearnt things that were once second nature to me. But fortunately, I made great progress and after a month I could eat, in less than 6 weeks I was able to walk 800 metres and a week later I could see when wearing an eye patch.
I spent weeks in intensive rehabilitative physiotherapy and recovery, and I entered stage two of my treatment… radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy involved daily doses of radioactive rays accurately targeting the area of the primary and secondary tumour, in an attempt to shrink and sterilise them. Following six weeks of daily radiotherapy treatment, enduring side effects such as vomiting, fatigue, sore ears and eyes and burns to my back, neck & chest, I then had a break for four weeks.
In my short break I focused on recovering and getting my body as fit as possible, with the exception of a lovely Christmas lunch of course, before undertaking stage three…. chemotherapy. This is the final round of the fight between me and my twin brain tumours. It involves seven rounds of chemotherapy and threatens to wipe me out and destroy as many good and bad cells as it can with each cycle. But I am optimistic.
Commencing the first five-day cycle couldn’t have gone any better. I managed to get through it without vomiting or feeling sick once and it almost felt like it hadn’t even started. I have now completed my second cycle and still have no vomiting or nausea.
This year, besides beating my cancer, I would like to get back to full fitness and kick a soccer ball around again. I’m striving to complete one unit of my uni course and make a difference for all cancer sufferers in the future through my advocacy work alongside Minderoo Foundation’s Eliminate Cancer initiative. The fundraising for brain cancer research I undertook in 2018 gave me a focus bigger than my own health and I want to continue to work to help others like me to beat cancer.