Former Member for Cairns and our editor Gavin King reveals he has been diagnosed with cancer.
UPDATE 30 MAY 2017: Gavin has been given the all clear from his recent cancer diagnosis, following six weeks of radiation treatment at the Princess Alexandria Hospital in Brisbane.
When the terrible news came, I was sitting alone in our family car in a parking space at Cairns Central shopping centre.
It was Monday afternoon, 21st November. Having just finished some quick Christmas shopping, I was back in the car typing a brief message on my phone to one of my colleagues at TropicNow.
The third edition of Tropic magazine had just been sent to the printer. My message was a moment of celebration and congratulations after we had completed another two months of hard work and countless hours putting the latest issue together.
A few seconds after I hit send on that message, my phone rang.
The caller ID displayed the name “McLeod St Medical”.
It was my GP. And when your extremely busy and booked out GP makes time to call a patient, it’s never, ever for a casual chat about what you both got up to over the weekend.
His opening words to me were: “Are you sitting down”.
I replied in the affirmative, and braced myself for his next sentence.
That was the moment I was told I had cancer.
This bolt from the blue had been brewing for months, back when I first noticed the lump on the left side of my neck.
This protrusion just under my skin – about the size of a walnut - seemingly appeared out of nowhere one average day in July. I really did just happen to notice it one day. No build-up or associated symptoms.
My wife and I thought it must be a swollen gland from some innocuous infection. When it didn’t go away, I had it checked by my GP.
He couldn’t determine what it was, so I was sent away for further checks. The results were inconclusive, so more tests were ordered. All the while, the lump didn’t go down. Instead, it grew larger.
By now I was shuffled from appointment to specialist, from ultrasounds and biopsies to blood tests and CT scans. A few weeks ago, I had surgery to remove the lump.
The test results from the excised lump were the subject of that phone call from my GP as I sat in the car park at Cairns Central a few weeks ago.
At just 37 years old, cancer in the neck and throat area is pretty rare. Normally, you’d have to rack up decades of cigarette smoking and boozing to be hit with this type of cancer.
I admit I’ve smoked and drank my fair share over the years, but nothing so excessive as to warrant this.
Cancer. The Big C. The ruthless bastard of a disease diagnosed in more than 130,000 Australians each year.
Cancer. Really? I’m not even 40 yet and I’m in good health. Thanks to my wife Leah, I have a balanced diet. We even buy the organic stuff from Rusty’s Markets. I’ve been jogging regularly for the past two years and ran my first half-marathon in September.
I swim and wrestle and play with our two gorgeous children every other day. I’ve been working 60-hours plus each week on our new company TropicNow and loving it.
I haven’t had a single symptom; no sore throat, no frequent coughing, and no difficulty in swallowing all those fresh fruit and vegetables.
But here I am, a few weeks before Christmas, diagnosed with cancer.
The over-riding feeling since being diagnosed isn’t anger, though there is plenty of that.
I’m not particularly scared or frightened, not yet.
Instead, the dominant emotion for me right now is sadness. It’s not there all the time, but when it comes, it really does a number on you.
I’m sad for what Leah will have to go through and the load she'll have to bear when I'm laying low, as so many carers do day in, day out.
I’m sad, deeply sad, for our kids aged 6 and 4. For all those times I groaned when they pleaded with me to read them a bedtime story.
I’m sad for the countless others diagnosed with cancer who might not have the support network I do, or face a far graver battle to beat it.
I’m sad for what I might miss out on over coming months and for all the things, so many things, I’ve put off doing while I was healthy and able.
The sadness comes in random waves. Here’s one recent example: Every Friday morning for nearly eight years our family has awoken before dawn and ventured to Rusty’s for our weekly shop. Last Friday morning, I slept in and stayed home to rest.
When Leah and the kids returned home at around 8am, I was standing in the kitchen overlooking our little backyard and I started crying. I didn’t know why, and I couldn’t stop. I can’t remember the last time I cried about anything.
This sudden sadness that was so strong it made me weep was a shock to me.
Thankfully, my prognosis is good. My tonsils were removed last week, and a range of biopsies around the base of my tongue and neck have returned clear results.
Shortly after Christmas, I’ll undergo six weeks of targeted radiotherapy in Brisbane, with the potential for chemotherapy depending on how that first round of treatment goes.
While I’m disappointed I can’t have the treatment in Cairns (we don’t have the local resources to treat my kind of cancer), I’m grateful it was caught early and I’m optimistic about my chances of beating it.
Another thing I’m grateful for is the team we have built at TropicNow. I will continue to work while in Brisbane, and Sam, Tim, Leah, and Can will continue to grow our company and look after our clients here on the ground in Cairns.
Above all, of course, you can’t make it through whatever happens over the next few months without the love and support of family and friends.
For each of us, in any circumstance, the inner circle is our greatest asset and our strongest defence against the worst life can and will dish out.
I won’t bore you with updates and inspirational messages here on our wonderful platform TropicNow as I undergo treatment over the next few months. This was just the quickest and simplest way to let our readers and clients read about it first.
I wish you and yours a magical festive season, and hope you have a chance to hug your loved ones tighter and longer than usual this Christmas, as I will.