Dave tackles cancer treatment with a solid support network of medical professionals and friends
Soccer fan Dave lives in the Northern Beaches area at Dee Why and has attended the centre at Northern Beaches Cancer Care for radiation therapy that has helped him rebound from cancer of the oesophagus.
One hot Saturday, Dave, aged 67, had such a painful throat he could barely swallow, but there was no obvious obstruction. “My local doctor came off his break to see me, as he thought I was having a heart attack,” says Dave. “He got me an ambulance, and I went straight up the road to Northern Beaches hospital.” After his endoscopy, the signs looked promising, but the episode proved to be the first signal of a more severe problem.
A few months later, Dave experienced the same throat blockage issue and was back in hospital for more tests that also included a biopsy. “A few days later, the surgeon rang me up and said: ‘It came back positive’,” says Dave. The diagnosis was squamous cell cancer in Dave’s oesophagus.
“You nearly drop dead when you are being told ‘You’ve got cancer’,” Dave recalls. “You think your days are numbered, obviously, and you go into a panic.” Fortunately, his surgeon, was able to reassure him that treatment was available. He referred Dave to Dr Michael Izard at Northern Beaches Cancer Care. “Within the first few minutes of sitting down with him, Dr Izard made me feel so relaxed and at home,” says Dave.
Dr Izard explained that his cancer was treatable, all the up-to-date medical equipment was available on the Northern Beaches and that they could look after him. Dave was enormously relieved. “He just made me feel terrific in the first two minutes.”
Dr Izard drew up a plan for Dave. “He told me, ‘This is how we treat it. This is where we’ll start. We’ll hit it, and hit it hard.’ So it was more or less straight away. I was diagnosed around the end of November and started treatment in December.”
Dave’s treatment program involved daily radiotherapy at Northern Beaches Cancer Care centre and chemotherapy every two weeks at the Northern Beaches Hospital.
With the treatment centre nearby and great help from Ann and Paul, the family friends he lives with, Dave found coping with the full-on round of appointments and tests quite straightforward. “My friends would take me up to appointments. I never missed one and was never late for one appointment. I’m so lucky.” He also had support from good mates as he faced a confronting future. “I wasn’t alone for one minute,” says Dave.
While words like ‘radiation therapy’ sounded daunting initially, Dave found the treatment to be manageable and not painful. “You are out in 10 minutes – really the radiotherapy treatment is easy.” The process was clear and the staff arranged his radiotherapy appointments to accommodate the fortnightly chemotherapy sessions. Northern Beaches Cancer Care staff were “extremely supportive,” says Dave, “and Dr Izard – all along he was unbelievable.”
Dave’s cancer experience took a positive turn after treatment. “In the meantime, with all this radiotherapy and chemotherapy, I was getting blood tests and scans all the time,” explains Dave. “I went to see my chemotherapist for the results. I had my fingers crossed, legs crossed and everything else. He said, ‘Well, the good news is, Dave, you’re all clear.’”
The cancer had responded to the treatment, and as Dave recalls, “I think I nearly broke the Doctor’s ribs with my hug. It was a great feeling. I still can’t believe how lucky I am, to be honest. I’m an extremely lucky man.”
Just looking at his group of mates who meet up regularly, Dave has observed the impact of cancer. “We have a drink, about six to ten of us – Aussies and Pommies – every Saturday afternoon. Quite a few of us have had cancer and four of us have been cleared. So there are more successes than failures.”
Dave stresses that treatment is available and is not something to avoid. “It’s easy to throw in the towel and say ‘Nah, forget it’. But don’t. See it through.”
A sports fan, Dave was able to relate when the surgeon told him, “We’re going to smash this, Dave”. For Dave, it was good news to have a challenge ahead. “You’ve got to be positive and say: ‘This thing won’t beat me’.”
He cautions that the pressure of being diagnosed with cancer can take its toll on your mental health. Dave’s friends have been a real support, “I can’t imagine being on your own with this stuff. If I had been on my own I would struggle to make the appointments for one. Mentally I would have needed help”, he reflects. Reaching out is the first step. “If you haven’t got somebody to talk with, get somebody,” advises Dave. “You’ve got to talk about it. This is just totally different.”
Dave found that keeping his thoughts on a strong, positive track was vital in his response to the diagnosis. “I’m no hero. I’m pretty emotional. I’ve never been faced with anything like this. But you’ve got to be positive and say, ‘This thing won’t beat me’.”
Dave offers some thoughts from his experience to others in a similar position. “Take it on straight away and say: ‘There it is.’ Go forward, don’t go right or left, take it on. You’ve been diagnosed. You’re not going to change that. Try not to lose sleep over it, although you probably will anyway. Keep on top of it. Look after yourself – more than anything. Take care of your diet, and exercise if you can. Don’t go into a hole, because it is very difficult to get out. Reach out to somebody because you are not alone, there are people who can help you.”
With Ann and Paul, his mates and great medical staff at the hospital and Northern Beaches Cancer Centre becoming his family, Dave says “I’m a lucky man and I know I am.”