Major multidisciplinary meeting
Dame Olivia Newton-John was a special guest at the VCCC Research Conference last year, identifying herself as person who is not only surviving but thriving, despite cancer.
The 3rd Victorian Cancer Survivorship Conference has harnessed a similar energy, bringing all ten VCCC alliance members together with international leaders in the field. Survivorship is everything that happens after a cancer diagnosis and initial treatment, so opportunities to influence improved patient outcomes and wellbeing are enormous.
“It is an interactive conference program,” says convenor and Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Professor Michael Jefford. “As survival rates for cancer constantly improve, living beyond diagnosis has far-reaching implications for patients, carers, community and health systems. This conference is crucial for anyone working in the field, caring for a person living with cancer or keen to understand more about living well with the disease.”
Tuned in to survivorship
Brad McNally was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2016 while working in radio on the Gold Coast. Throughout his life he has been a keen runner and is passionate about martial arts.
“It had never crossed my mind that I would get cancer,” says Brad. “You’re just oblivious, aren’t you?
Brad underwent an awake craniotomy in Melbourne. “I have never been so scared in my life. I could hear the saw and it scared the hell out of me. I remember the surgery was scheduled for Sunday morning about 7.00am and I remarked to my surgeon that I hoped she wasn’t hungover. She wouldn’t rule it out and we laughed. At that point I knew I would be fine and I absolutely credit Kate Drummond for saving my life.”
“After the first month post-surgery, I was back running, and doctors commented how my fitness put me a long way ahead of most people. I had a great heart rate and was in good shape thanks to exercise, not just then but for much of my life.”
Life is wonderful, until it's not...
Like many people with an experience of cancer, Brad was well and truly on the mend, but his story doesn’t end there. Fear of recurrence, maintaining a lifestyle physically, psychologically and financially are common concerns. Late effects of cancer may be not well understood by many patients.
“What I would say to people is to ask lots of questions of your treatment team. There can be many ways and means to get rid of cancer. Since my treatment, I have progressively lost mobility. My fine motor skills have deteriorated. The tumour was on my right side but I’ve lost ability down my left side, and I happen to be left-handed.
“I have pins and needles in my arms and hands, I can’t hold a knife and fork, do up the buttons on my shirt or write. I can no longer walk or drive. My wife has become my fulltime carer. If I had to do an IQ test, they’d be asking for my Mensa membership back.
It's not all bad
“But it’s not all bad,” says Brad. "I go to rehab gym and I enjoy that. I really recommend meditation, it has held me in good stead over the years - before and after getting cancer. Without doubt walking and running is the greatest loss. I can close my eyes and remember all the footpaths, the cracks on the road, where the water fountains are. And I am so grateful for the love and support of my family and friends. People visit and we go out for coffee. I have an internet radio show. I do the day-to-day things. I love finding new music on Spotify, spending time with my young grandkids. This year my wife and I are going on a cruise."
Learning every step of the way
“Perhaps five years ago, I may not have survived but based on my scans, I’m currently cancer free. There are lots of people, not just older guys like me but kids, young adults who plan on being around for a long time. It’s important that researchers, doctors, nurses, everyone works together to share what they know so things can be better.
"Patients aren’t always aware of the potential side effects of treatment, and not all patients know what to ask, so I think it’s important oncologists tell them and allow the patient to make better-informed choices on their treatment plan."
The 3rd Victorian Cancer Survivorship Conference, presented by the VCCC and the Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre will be held at Crown Convention Centre, Melbourne, 12-13 March 2020. Register here now.
Image: Left: Brad and his daughters Sky and Kim.
Right: Professor Kate Drummond AM, Director of Neurosurgery, The Royal Melbourne Hospital with Brad McNally, Australian radio executive and runner.