Ben's story: 'Cancer has taught me a lot'

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.”

 

Life now

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.

Leave comment
  • Cognitive difficulties after brain cancer

    The Conversation outlines the ways that cancer in a child’s brain has the potential to impact their overall future health and cause long-term disturbances to the central nervous system of survivors.intro Known as ‘late effects’, these cognition and communication difficulties can affect personal and social development. Early intervention can lessen the impact of such difficulties on survivors.   Cancer Advisor has a range of resources on brain cancer and late effects, but we’re always looking for more content. Leave a comment below, share your own story or recommend a resource.  

  • Danielle’s story: One day at a time

    They say that our first love will stay in our hearts forever. This couldn’t be more true for 26-year Danielle Paparone. At 19 she was swept off her feet by an affable young man with striking blue eyes. After a blissful year together, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. However, treatment was unsuccessful, and he died three years after diagnosis. Danielle shares her incredible love story with Cancer Advisor and tells us how she turns her pain into purpose. “He had very big blue eyes and that’s what drew me in,” Danielle says. Jake first laid his big blue […]

  • Advice and information on fatigue caused by brain tumours

    Fatigue can be a challenging side effect of brain tumours. If you have a brain tumour you may be wondering about how you can navigate this side effect. This factsheet from UK organisation The Brain Tumour Charity provides information and practical suggestions for coping with the emotional and physical aspects of fatigue caused by brain tumours. To open the factsheet explains: “Fatigue is often described as a persistent feeling of being tired, weak, worn out, slow or heavy. It is a common symptom for people with all types and grades of brain tumour. Cancer-related fatigue is often talked about, but less acknowledged […]

  • “Death doesn’t have to mean failure” – Sacha’s story

    The Guardian in the UK has published Sacha’s story about her son’s end-of-life experience. David, known as DD, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma – a brain tumour – at aged 11. He died five years later. Sacha has since written a book, Follow the Child to help other parents struggling to come to terms with the death of their child. “I consulted four other sets of parents who were passionate about improving end-of-life care,” she explains. “We have laughed and cried and then needed the reassurance of experienced social workers, palliative nurse and paediatric palliative consultants to check our efforts. I only regret that […]

  • Breakthrough in incurable childhood brain cancer

    Sydney Morning Herald discusses advancements in curing childhood brain cancer. According to the article DIPG, or diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, doesn’t respond to chemotherapy and is terminal. However, a team of doctors at the Children’s Cancer Institute in Sydney have found a drug that looks promising. Cancer Advisor has a range of resources on brain and CNS tumours, but we’re always looking for more content. Leave a comment below, share your own story or recommend a resource

  • Educating teachers about brain injury

    Educating Educators about Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is produced by Brock University and the Ontario Brain Injury Association (Canada). Many children who have brain tumors will suffer from acquired brain injuries and will need intervention with education. This resource has excellent practical information on brain injury for teachers and parents, as well as strategies for teaching children with brain injury in the classroom. It is available free online in PDF format. For more information, Cancer Advisor has a range of resources on brain injury and brain tumours. Before you go … Please share your insights and knowledge to help other people facing […]

Comments

Comments will appear below.

What do you think about this topic?