Cancer survivor

Murray B is an inspiring man – not only because he has survived an enormous upheaval and illness but also because he chooses to work with others who have been through something similar and to share his experiences with YOURLifeChoices subscribers.

When most people are told they have cancer they think, “this is the end”, but that is not necessarily the case. I was at work one morning driving buses and my left leg and foot started to swell so much that I had to undo my shoe and take it off. When I got back to the depot for my break, my supervisor asked if I knew my shoe was undone. I told him I did and the reason why, and we both agreed that I should go to the doctor and get him to test for Deep Vein Thrombosis.

After seeing the doctor and being sent for an ultrasound, which showed only poor circulation in my leg and no DVT, I was sent home to rest with my leg elevated for a week. On the Thursday afternoon I was making a cup of coffee when I felt a sharp pain in my right side which almost doubled me over. The next morning when I went to the doctor we both agreed that I could have a kidney stone so I was sent for another ultrasound – this time to see if a kidney stone existed.

The lady doing the ultra sound stopped after a while and went out to get the doctor at the radiologists. After some consultation they decided to ring my doctor and get permission to run a CT scan to check out the mass they had found. After having the CT scan they told me to go to my doctor first thing Saturday morning and he would have the results.

By late afternoon Wednesday, I was admitted to ward 4A at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. The first diagnosis was Renal Cell Carcinoma and the huge tumour was attached to my lower right lung and my liver. My right kidney was completely encased in it and it was also constricting my vena cava and main aorta and almost stopping circulation to my left leg.

Because of the size of the tumour and the number of organs involved I was examined by various doctors from different fields of medicine. After many tests, ultra sounds, cat scans and examinations, they decided that the tumour was too large and involved too many organs for me to have an operation.

Seven weeks later after a biopsy and a bone marrow biopsy it was found that what I had was a Large Diffused B Cell Lymphoma and that it could be treated with chemotherapy and radiation. After six courses of chemotherapy, each one three weeks apart, they followed up with radiation every day Monday to Friday for four weeks.

I found it hard at times to cope with some of the side effects of the treatment, especially the tingling in the fingers, as I have always liked to potter around doing things but found I couldn’t pick things up, hold things and even some days turn the pages in a book or the newspaper as I couldn’t feel them. Sometimes I would be talking to friends who had come to visit me and for no apparent reason I would start crying. Even today, three years after being diagnosed, I still have days where I just have to go and spend a couple of hours sleeping. In January 2004, I was told that I was in remission.

Checks and cat scans have been a three monthly event for the past two-and-a- half years and will be for some time to come. In 2004, I enlisted the help of some of my old work mates and friends and we entered a team in the Cancer Council Queensland Relay For Life. I also joined the Cancer Council Queensland, became a Cancer Connect volunteer and entered the Cancer Council Queensland Challenge to raise money for cancer research. My aim this year is to raise $20,000.

I am now not able to perform the job I was doing before getting cancer and have had to change my life. About February 2005, I decided that I felt well enough to try working again and was told that twenty-nine hours a week was all I was allowed to do. Centrelink arranged for an employment agency that specialises in people with disabilities to accept me and find work for me. Not being allowed to sit for long hours, work outside or do heavy lifting and being 59-years-young doesn’t leave the window open for a lot of jobs. I finally found employment at a car auction firm washing cars and driving them around the yard and through the auctions. After doing this for three months, I finally had to admit that I was not as well as I thought and was forced to give it away. I now deliver 1150 free papers on Wednesday and Friday mornings.

The upside of all this is that Brenda my wife and I are able to get in the car and go for drives any time we feel like it. I am also my wife’s carer, as Brenda had a stroke on 10 February 2005 and several TIAs (mini-strokes). In January 2006, after suffering lower back pain, MRI and CT scans showed I have a compression fracture of the L1 vertebrae caused by the radiation treatment and osteoporosis in my left hip.

I am 61-years-old and intend to carry on with my Cancer Council volunteer work for many years to come as a Cancer Connect volunteer. This year I am Chairman of the Relay For Life to be held in Bentleigh for the first time, and to attend the 125th reunion in New Zealand of my old fire brigade in Levin, New Zealand, in 2027.

Murray B.