Diagnosis & treatment
After having a sore on his neck for a few weeks Ben decided to make an appointment with his local GP in Perth. Although Ben was more preoccupied about the sore, after hearing about Ben’s history of headaches the doctor insisted on getting tests done.
A few weeks later, the 23-year-old was told he had a benign brain tumour and needed surgery. However, after testing the biopsy the tumour turned out to be a malignant four centimetre mass. It was classified as stage 2 with characteristics of stage 3 astrocytoma glioma. The mass was on the right temporal lobe. “I was bluntly told, ‘You have cancer’ and needed radiation and chemotherapy. It was a big shock to all of us, but I knew from that point I had to stay mentally strong to get through it.”
The neurosurgeon removed 95% of the tumour, so Ben needed follow-up treatment to remove the rest. To start with, Ben had 33 sessions of radiation in 7 weeks. “It’s funny because everyone always goes ‘whoa’ about the radiotherapy and yeah, I didn’t enjoy it, but it wasn’t that bad. They had just installed a state-of-the-art radiation machine, so I was pretty lucky there. The oncologists were always friendly and during my first session of treatment they showed my girlfriend Emma and my family how radiotherapy worked. I also built a good relationship with one of the head oncologists who would bring in a selection of music for me like Queen and I would sing throughout the session.”
After radiation, Ben needed six months of chemotherapy – both IV and tablets. During that time, he lost 30 kilos. “That was definitely the worst,” he says. “It just took life away from me, but I tried to stay as positive as possible. It made me realise all the small things I had taken for granted, like going for walks to the park. I’m very lucky that I still have the ability to walk and talk, and live a somewhat normal life.”
What Ben learnt from having cancer
“When you’re sick you feel so distanced from reality. Sometimes in the past I didn’t feel like going to work, but when it’s all taken away from you, all you want to do are the ‘normal’ everyday things. You end up really appreciating that sort of stuff.”
When asked what he would say to other young people facing cancer the first words out of his mouth are, ‘be brave.’
“We really are warriors and battlers,” Ben says. “It’s funny the way cancer strikes you in life. It brings the close people closer, and the ones you don’t need – it just pushes them away. Everything happens for a reason. And with cancer, it has taught me a lot about what is important in life.”
Ben is now in remission and has a follow-up scan every six months. Now that his health is stable he and Emma like to volunteer and support the cancer charities that supported them through Ben’s journey. They want to ensure that those who find themselves in the same unfortunate position also get the help they received. Just last year Ben took part in Dry July and raised $577.00 for Redkite.
After getting the all clear the main priority for Ben was to continue to strive to be the healthiest he could be. “When I was going through chemotherapy all I wanted was to be healthy – I wanted to go to the gym and actually feel like eating food instead of resenting it. As soon as I was in remission I re-joined my local gym and I haven’t look back. Going to the gym isn’t just a place to lift heavy things. It really gives me the sense of freedom because it was something I physically couldn’t do during treatment.”
Cancer gave Ben a newfound ambition. “About ten years ago I did my first few years in a carpentry apprenticeship, but I didn’t have a very good boss and it took a lot of my confidence away from me. But after cancer it made me realise you just have to grab life by the gonads and there’s nothing to lose.” With some encouragement from Emma, Ben worked on his resume and within a week of moving back to Brisbane he landed a job. In 2018 Ben was awarded HIA Apprentice of the Year for both Brisbane & Queensland. He now works as a qualified tradesman and looks forward to passing on his knowledge to other apprentices in a supportive working environment.