It was May 2015 when I (28 years old) discovered that there was an evil little lump of unwelcome matter that had taken up residence in my brain. I was on a weekend away from my new life in the Mediterranean to attend the wedding of some dear friends in Greece. I woke my bedmate when having a violent seizure that quickly woke the rest of our friends in the villa as well. Unfortunately, Santorini doesn’t have its own hospital so it was deemed necessary that I was airlifted back to Athens. Of course, I didn’t have travel insurance, but in my crazy new life, it wasn’t unexpected to have friends with nearby pilots in the family. I was taken to Athens, where, after many days of needles and scans, the doctors, at last, concluded I had a tumour in my right frontal lobe which needed prompt attention. By this time my parents had arrived from Sydney and the doctors gave us the option of undergoing surgery there in Athens or returning to my Motherland. We decided it best to go home.
I was delivered straight to the hospital where the doctors agreed that, yes, I had a tumour, and it was in fact a stage 2 diffuse Astrocytoma that did indeed need to be resected ASAP. Of course, neurosurgeons aren’t simply on call and I had to wait a few weeks before going under the knife. This surgery was successful in that a good portion of the tumour was removed. I did, however, suffer a stroke and woke from surgery unable to move any limb or digit on my left side. I was extremely fortunate that my face and speech were unaffected, as is the case with many strokes.
I continued with regular MRIs until eventually, a change presented itself on the scans two years after surgery number 1. At this time we sought a second opinion and possible alternative surgeon after the bad luck with the first, and she advised that this change in my images needed to be investigated more closely (ie a biopsy), and hey, while we’re in there why not scrape out the rest of the tumour? Not only this but Dr. 2 said she could remove the area of my brain affected by the stroke and likely relieve me of the seizure activity that had been troubling me.
The second surgery was a huge success in resecting almost all of the remaining tumour, but more importantly for me, I no longer had to take the seizure medication that had been causing me (and everyone else around me) so much stress and discomfort. It did, however, come with some bad news – the change in the scans was because the tumour had turned cancerous,(Anaplastic Astrocytoma) so the journey was far from over; I even managed to fit in a pulmonary embolism 5 days after surgery. From there I underwent both radiotherapy and chemotherapy, both of which are incredibly unpleasant; but in time the scans showed less and less tumour until ultimately there was nothing to see.
There is no cure for cancer, but I beat it, and there is a long list of medical professionals who deserve my endless gratitude, but the people who really got me through this horrible ordeal are my family and friends. Without such a strong network bolstering my hope and confidence, I’d have given up years ago. Mindset is so important, and for most of this journey I was stubbornly certain I was going to walk away from it, but when that façade cracks there is no value that can be placed on the support of those who care about you. - Harry Parsons
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