Receiving specialist medical treatment for cancer patients is both a harrowing and daunting experience. Patients and their family members spend a considerable amount of time in the cancer centre awaiting treatments and for many, this is a daily ritual.
The PA Research Foundation - using funds raised through the Dry July campaign - is helping to make the time spent at the cancer centre as comfortable as possible. To date, Dry July at the PA Hospital has: helped fund free WiFi access for patients, developed an e-Education program to provide up to date information for patients prior to treatment and installed flat screen televisions across cancer services’ waiting areas to help pass the time.
This year, funds raised through Dry July will go towards renovating patient waiting areas into interactive spaces to make the sometimes 5 hour waiting periods pass a little easier and installing more comfortable seating.
A patient who has recently spent a considerable amount of time at the PA cancer centre is Mike Stott who had to relocate to Brisbane for treatment of Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Tongue. By supporting Dry July at the PA Hospital, you are helping to ensure patients like Mike feel as comfortable as possible at the hospital during such a difficult time in their lives.
Here is Mike’s story…
Mike Stott, a Cartographer from Cairns, noticed that a lump in the left side of his neck had formed during August 2016. He wasn’t feeling ill or suffering from any side effects, but worryingly, the lump was not going away.
Mike’s doctor placed him on a course of antibiotics to see if it would clear a possible infection, however, this was to no avail. Further referral visits for X-Rays, blood tests, biopsies, scans and exploratory surgery revealed that Mike had Tongue Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Tongue). His oncologist said that it was a result of a virus he had as a child.
After further hospital consultations with specialists in the oncology units in Cairns, Mike was required to relocate to Brisbane to commence a sustained 8-week treatment schedule of radiation and chemotherapy at the PA Hospital.
Mike and his wife Trudy arrived in Brisbane on Sunday 4th December after a 3-day drive from Cairns. The following day, his treatment schedule was arranged on his first trip to the PA Hospital. He was to receive radiation treatment daily each weekday and chemotherapy once per week on a Wednesday. Speaking about that first day, Mike said:
“Monday saw us leave for the hospital, it was our first day at the Cancer Council Lodge and we saw many patient residents waiting for the courtesy bus for their trip to their selected hospital. This was our first confronting moment as a lot of patients appeared in a bad way.
“It was quite disturbing and immediately created some anxiousness within us both.”
“The first radiation treatment was okay. I felt good, there was just a slight tingle in the left side of my lips. The Radiologist said I was a perfect patient in treatment – of course they would considering it was my first time!”
Mike’s radiation treatments were short in duration, however there were other things being done in between times including talks on chemo awareness and diet, seeing speech therapists for tongue exercises, receiving physiotherapy and further blood tests. The PA Hospital was fast becoming Mike’s new second home.
The chemotherapy days for Mike were a tough slog. He and Trudy would generally arrive at the hospital between 8:30/9:00 am for tests and to see his oncologists before spending numerous hours in the patient waiting area prior to his chemotherapy treatment. Some days, Mike would not leave the hospital until 8:00pm as he still had to receive his radiation treatment on chemotherapy days.
“Chemotherapy involved 4 hours sitting in ‘The Chair’, being pumped full of saline and the chemo drug. The chairs are extremely comfortable with electric back and foot recliners,” said Mike.
As treatment progressed, Mike began to suffer from the common side effects such as nausea, lack of appetite, excess build up of phlegm, pain, weight loss and broken sleep. Mike recalls Tuesdays or ‘Torturous Tuesday’ as the worst day due to it being the last day of the chemo week.
During Mike’s final week of treatment, ‘Severe Monday’ as he refers to it as, occurred. His condition began to deteriorate due to the increased dosage of drugs and by Tuesday his temperature was up to 38.1 and his white blood cell count was down. Mike was admitted to hospital as an inpatient with 24 hour care for the next two nights.
He had his final chemotherapy treatment on the Thursday from his hospital bedside which was, “a nice way of having it as I slept all through it!” Said Mike.
After his final radiation treatment on the Friday, Mike was allowed to take his ‘thermo plastic body mask’ home with him. “I will get it painted in the Avatar colours and call it … ‘The Big Cavatar’,” said Mike.
The battle wasn’t over for Mike after his treatment finished. The following week, Mike’s white blood cell count was lower than before as well as his neutrophil count. He spent the week in hospital before being discharged on the Friday afternoon. This was short-lived however as he was back in hospital for a further 7-days due to “the neutrophil counts moving up and down like a YoYo,” according to Mike.
Finally, on Wednesday 8th February, 2017, Mike received the all-clear from his radiation oncologist to travel back home to Cairns on the Saturday.
He was forever grateful for the care that he received during his treatment.
“The dieticians, along with all hospital doctors, oncologists and nurses have been just wonderful to us. They are all such a good bunch of people and so caring and dedicated to their work. Just Gems!”
Mike was booked in for a return visit to the PA Hospital on Tuesday/Wednesday 11-12th April for his 3-month post treatment PET scan to report on any evidence of residual cancer. He had the scans on the Tuesday and returned on the Wednesday for the results.
“This was the most anxious week of my life, with so much hope pinning on a positive outcome,” said Mike.
“The results were given to me by the oncologist and they were: “No evidence of a residual malignancy in the neck. No new lesions to indicate disease progression.”
“In other words; Stage 1 is ‘ALL CLEAR’.”
“Trudy and I jumped for joy and got quite emotional – we had to ask the oncologist to allow us a moment which he fully understood.
“Some of the nurses in the oncology unit heard and came to see us with hugs and well wishes all around.
“There is still more to do and I do have some pain when swallowing at the back of the tongue/throat whilst going through repair phase but it is still a great result.”
Mike credits his wife Trudy for the incredible support, love and care she showed to him during his time at the PA Hospital, and of course since returning home.
“Trudy wasn’t finishing her days until about 10pm (everyday). She was very busy driving me in and out of the PA hospital. Doing daily grocery/fruit shopping to get the freshest of all, and also depending on what I felt I could eat.
“There was daily washing to be done as cleanliness was at the top of the list. She looked after my drug load to ease my pain and ensured I did my mouth/tongue exercises (twice daily) and much much more. She really is the unsung hero!”
Mike will continue to have 3-monthly visits to oncologists in Cairns and Brisbane for the next 2-years and will also have to deal with some significant side effects from the radiation and chemotherapy treatment such as: partial deafness, dry mouth, some memory loss, muscle loss, weight loss and fatigue. Some of these will be fixed, others may not, but according to Mike, “I’m still here, we’re over the moon!”