Jamie’s Story – 13 yrs old with Hodgkin Lymphoma

 At the age of 13 I discovered a lump in my groin and told Mum.  My Mum thought I might have an infection somewhere and immediately booked me in for an appointment with our local GP.  The GP took blood tests and the results came back negative for what he was looking for, so he just gave me antibiotics and sent me home.   

Being 13 and very naive I never thought anything more of it and went along with life as a normal teenager and never told anyone that the lump was still there – let alone grown.   

I decided to attend St Brendan's College in Yeppoon for its rugby league program. It was there that Simpson developed greater self-discipline.  In late 2001 I was selected in the school's 1st X111 at age 15. At this time, I developed little lumps all over my shins and I went to the school nurse who suggested they were probably just skin lumps.

However, mum was a little more concerned and said we were going to go the doctors.  But I had a Touch Carnival in Toowoomba to play in for Saint Brendan's and had no intention of going anywhere till after this. Priorities right – well they were for a 15 year old.  

After returning from a successful carnival my Aunty took me to the doctors because Mum had to work.  He examined my legs and said they were just little blood clots.  He then asked if I had any other lumps and this is when I showed him the lump in my groin.  Well the doctor nearly fell off his chair as the lump was approx 12 cm long (size of my fist) and protruding out approx 4 – 5cm. 

My doctor rang Mum and explained his findings.  Mum rushed down to the surgery crying fearing the worse as cancer is familiar in our family.  My Granddad died from bladder cancer when I was 5.  

But being young I never really grasped the magnitude of the whole cancer thing as I was feeling fit and healthy. I wasn't sick so I must be ok that was my way of thinking. 

Things then started to happen really quickly. My doctor did up a referral to the hospital for a biopsy.  We met with the surgeon who explained what was going to happen and within weeks I was in having the lump removed. I had a drain put into my groin where the lump was removed from and was on crutches for a couple of weeks. 

It was toward the end of October when the results were returned that I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma.  I remained strong and positive but my mum found it very hard and couldn't help but cry every time she thought about it.  I kept reassuring her that I was going to be ok and I would beat this. 

I was referred to a specialist from Brisbane Dr Kennedy (my saviour I say) and he organised more tests to determine the stage of my Lymphoma.  I was subjected to a lumbar puncture and it was one of the worst tests ever. Initially we thought is was only going to be in my groin (Stage 1) but MRI's and bone scans revealed I was Stage 3 which was my groin, abdomen and neck.  

Dr Kennedy decided to go with chemotherapy first and said the mix of chemo I was going to have was the worst but the most successful. He put a positive note on my prognosis – if the chemo is successful and I stay in remission for 5 years I should be good for 10 years then after 10 years in remission the likelihood of getting it back was very minimal.  

So it was New Years Eve 2001 when I had my first session of a 6mth chemo schedule. Not the best way to bring in the New Year.  It was the worst thing ever I would spend the whole day in the ward being injected with the chemo and then spend the rest of the week being violently ill.   

I would then have a week off and attend school for 2 – 3 days then do it all over again.  I would start vomiting the moment I stepped into the ward and it was at this point when I nearly gave up.  6 months felt like a life time and then it was all over.

Everything was looking good, scans were clear and I was feeling great about my future.  

3 months after the chemo had finished things took a turn for the worse my leg started to swell and I was subjected to more tests.

The tests showed that the cancer had returned.  

Again we met with Dr Kennedy and again he explained the circumstances that the only treatment left was a Stem Cell Transplant.  As this treatment was not available in Rockhampton we had to go to Brisbane.   

Mum had to take time off work without pay which meant very tight times.  But having such a close family they all helped out enormously. Mum's work colleagues also ran weekly raffles and would forward all the profits down to help us out.  

We stayed at my great auntie's place in Brisbane for the first month or so then the Leukaemia Foundation found accommodation for us.  My grandma came down to help support mum and look after my little sister. The rest of the family visited as often as they could to help out. 

The lead up tests showed I was a perfect donor for my own stem cells. So the process began, with me being hooked up to a machine, lying still all day – not an easy task.  The machine was taking blood from one arm, separating the blood and pumping it back into my other arm.  I had to give myself needles for awhile as well but this was one thing I couldn't do so Mum had to do it.  

I was then put into hospital and isolated as my immune system had been wiped out. This is when I hit rock bottom.  What was a couple of months felt like years.  I got a chest infection and was really sick.  I had to spend my 17th birthday in hospital.  Mum baked me a cake but I was so sick I couldn't eat. I couldn't have too many visitors either which was really hard. But I did get a visit from Scott Minto who organised an autographed copy of the book "Don't Die with the Music in You" with a personal message: "Tough time comes and goes, but tough guys last forever" from Wayne Bennett. 

As these words became stuck in my head I started to realise that I was going to beat this and I would still be able to achieve my dreams of playing NRL.

Once the treatment was over we returned to Rockhampton.  I had to have regular check ups with Dr Kennedy who came to Rockhampton every month from Brisbane.

Jamie-Simpson-PlayingA new year began and all the tests were clear and I am feeling great.  After finally beating cancer, I returned to St Brendan's to complete my senior education in 2004, with a newfound determination to make the most of my abilities. I was offered a couple of options by several clubs but ultimately settled on the Brisbane Broncos.

Our school side was going great, taking out the local competition and then we travelled to Townsville to play in the Confraternity Shield. As part of a victorious St Brendan's side I was awarded player of the Confraternity Carnival and later was selected for the Queensland Schoolboys team.  Who would have thought less than 12 months earlier I was the one in Brisbane very ill with cancer. 

I then started my senior career for Broncos feeder clubs Aspley and the Toowoomba Clydesdales in 2005-2006. Whilst I was a frequent try-scorer in the QLD Cup for Aspley and gained representative honours for the Queensland City origin side in 2007, I still couldn't crack it in the first grade side with the Broncos.

I was then lured to the South Sydney Rabbitohs for the 2008 NRL Season. An injury delayed my first grade debut until round 13, where I scored a try against the New Zealand Warriors. Once given the opportunity in the NRL, I knew with my determination and my new found attitude that the cancer had given me I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by.  

To date I have scored 13 tries in my first year and have played 27 NRL games.

A pretty mean feat for a boy who had cancer.

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