My name is Mark and this is my cancer journey...
As a 17 year old bloke I was absolutely convinced I was invincible, I was fit, healthy and had just come back from umpiring Auskick in front of 100,000 on Grand Final Day at the MCG when I noticed a small flat lump on my chest.
"I ignored it for quite a while thinking it was just an insect bite or a gland."
It was not for several months until I really did think about it. While away for New Years with mates, a friend enquired 'what was the funny looking lump on the chest?' I thought little more of it at the time and decided to mention it in passing to the parents, and since it was 3 weeks before the beginning of year 12 thought I should get it checked out. Thought very little of it and went to the GP who didn’t reveal anything but ordered more tests to be done; the first inkling that there was something going on was during an ultrasound of the lump when the person doing the ultrasound said 'oh sh*t!'. The mind at this stage was beginning to pay attention and sure enough after blood tests and more scans that afternoon on a hot Wednesday in the middle of January, I was diagnosed with cancer.
"The whole idea that I had, that I was invincible, was falling around me."
Cancer was something that had touched our family; I had lost 3 grandparents to it in the preceding six years so the preconceived ideas of cancer were not positive ones. I was 2 weeks from starting year 12 at this stage and wanted to do year 12 with my friends; so when I was told by my first oncologist that I would not be able to, I told them to 'get lost!'. While other people at school were worried about their textbooks and stationery, I was facing blood test after blood test, and numerous scans to find the spread of the disease; Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
"The friends and family around me were an amazing support and as much as I would tell myself otherwise, doing year 12 became a nice little distraction to the cancer."
After eventually being diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (advanced with bone marrow and spleen involvement) as well as an 8 by 15 cm mass in my chest cavity I began treatment. My knowledge of chemotherapy was reasonably limited and all I knew was that it made you feel ill and causes hair loss. I had no idea the extent of the symptoms and effect these toxic chemicals were doing to my body to save my life.
During one of my first chemotherapies treatments, my oncologist came and gave me a rundown of what was going on. At one stage he told me that chances of success were '50-50. This was a statement that hit me hard; I had denied to myself and everybody around me the severity of the cancer, and this was the news that if I flipped a coin, heads I live; but there are 2 sides to a coin.
I undertook 6 months of chemotherapy taken fortnightly in a 4 hour stay in the Haematology Oncology Day Unit at Flinders Hospital. As a passionate Port Adelaide supporter (I would only miss one game for the season) I would always wear my guernsey to chemotherapy as I felt a lot better when I had my beloved Power guernsey on. I met all sorts of people in the chemo ward from all walks of life although as I was in the adult ward I was the youngest there by what felt like 120 years. Chemotherapy was hard but I planned them on my study days and due to my stubborn refusal to miss any lessons of year 12 I only missed 6 days of school for the year. Once I had finished chemotherapy I had a few weeks break before starting radiotherapy. I had daily radiotherapy for 17 days which made me very ill but the fact it only lasted a few minutes was a lot better than chemotherapy.
"As time passed I became more and more aware of the world of cancer, a world that I had no idea existed for young people out there."
I had amazing support from organisations such as CanTeen and the Leukaemia Foundation all throughout treatment and even now. At the time and even now I probably did not take full advantage of all the programs and services available as I was so busy and it simply was not a high priority.
Once I finished treatment I found myself at an unusual crossroad; I had finished treatment and thing were looking positive, it was a surreal feeling but at the same time daunting. I had faced my mortality and won. I was one of the lucky ones. Nowadays I am still in full remission and despite a few other health hiccups including a false positive diagnosis of reoccurrence at the end of 2011.
"People will often say to me I am unlucky that all these things have happened to me; my attitude is quite the opposite. "
Cancer has given me a lot. It has given me new perspective on life, on what is important and the things that really matter to me. It also makes me appreciate what it is to be healthy and that good health in itself is a privilege and not everybody can be so lucky. It has also given me something to work towards; my life aim now, is to help other people and make their journey easier. I hope to do exercise physiology and help people to use exercise as an effective tool for rehabilitation. I have completed Human Movement at Uni SA and am about to embark on a seven-month sports tour of Europe. Yes, cancer has taken things from me and changed my life but it has given me a lot more. And while I would never wish it upon anybody I wish everybody could experience the life changing that comes from cancer.