Michael’s Story

August 27th 2010 the day I will never forget as long as I live it was the day my GP delivered the news to me that I had Lymphoma. My name is Michael Donnelly I am a 38 year old male coal mine worker married to a wonderful woman, (my rock), Theresa Donnelly and I have never really been sick a day in my life. I also have 2 wonderful children Jessica 10 and Cody 8. On receiving this news I was no different I suppose than any other person I was extremely worried, what does this mean, what will happen to me, will I be alright, not one of these answers my GP was able to give to me.

From here he referred me to a Haematologist, Dr Mark Bentley, in Brisbane and he scheduled me a date about 3 weeks later to meet Dr Bentley. However 8 days later a Saturday the 4th of September I woke up in the morning not feeling to well and my wife commented to me that I was yellow, we immediately rung the GP who upon looking at me arranged for me to fly to Brisbane that day where I admitted to Brisbane Private hospital that evening.

On meeting Dr Bentley the following morning he had a look at me and informed me that I was jaundice as the Bile ducts in my liver had closed of most likely as a direct result of the lymphoma. From here he explained all the things that could happen to me, however he explained to me that what I had was treatable and it was extremely important for me to remain positive. It was at this point the realities of my situation started to present themselves as I had left home thinking that I would have some form of treatment and then return home and periodically return to Brisbane at intervals for treatment, I asked Dr Bentley when would I go home to which he replied not this year, and then all the other things started going round my head what are we going to do how are we going to live in Brisbane and what about work. Not long after this Kris Murphy from the Leukaemia foundation came to the hospital and introduced herself to myself and my wife and told us that the leukaemia foundation was here to help people and families like ours through situations like this and from there she went on to organise accommodation and schooling at the Mater Hospital children's school for the kids.

I started off with a barrage of scans and tests, CT scans to determine the extent of the lymphoma and a bone marrow test to find out if it was in my bone marrow which thankfully it was not, and countless blood tests followed by a treatment regime called R-CHOP, a chemotherapy and steroid treatment regime that was to go over 16 weeks. I spent 20 days initially in the hospital over which time I had 2 chemotherapy cycles and countless blood tests and a drug called neulasta to assist with cell growth after each cycle of chemo, this was not cool as the pain coming from your bones afterwards is somewhat uncomfortable to say the least. Upon release from hospital I used to go every week to the day oncology unit on a Friday for a pick line dressing and the every second Wednesday for rituximab (monoclonal antibody) followed by chemo on the Friday. Chemo is a different thing for everybody but in saying that it is not what it was 10 years ago, I was quite fortunate in the sense that I never got sick throughout the whole thing, at times I just felt quite flat and lethargic and just a bit off and I did not suffer to many of the side effects (apart from losing all my hair)  that some others experience, so I think this on the whole is a positive I can draw from the experience, and you have to look for the positives where ever you can.

Most visits to the day oncology unit were greeted by a little Irish nurse Lesley who would greet you with a big smile and a how you goin today love. Nothing was to much trouble and she is one of those wonderful people that genuinely wanted to help and try to make things better for you she would help to make the time go with a few laughs and the odd story. Throughout the course of my treatment I had regular visits with Dr Bentley and blood tests and CT scans to track my progress all culminating in a PET scan on the 13th December, following this I had a visit with Dr Bentley on the 15th where he uttered those words to us that you are in remission.  You can't believe the sense of relief that flows through you when you hear those words. I was lucky in the sense that the lymphoma had not shown up in my bone marrow so my last round of chemo was a modified version which set me up to a point where I was able to have a stem cell harvest. This is a procedure that involves a series of 4 needles a day to promote cell growth for 7 days at which point the stem cells have flowed over into your blood stream and I was hooked up to a machine that separated stem cells and plasma where they are stored and frozen so they can be given back to you later if required, if the lymphoma returns.

Once again I have to reiterate this part of the process involved quite a bit of discomfort suffice to say it was not cool however necessary and if I had to go through it again I would in a heartbeat. Throughout my journey I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful and truly inspirational people who helped me to realise that I can beat this and life will go on and that self belief is a thing that will help you to beat this as well as the love and support of your family and friends. During my treatment I read the book written by Lance Armstrong titled “It's not all about the bike!, I found this book to be a great inspiration to see that people can overcome adversity and rise above and go on to achieve great things. IT TRULEY HELPED ME. I would like to take this opportunity to say a great thank you to a lot of people who helped me along the way Xstrata Coal Oaky North Colliery my employer, The CFMEU Oaky North Lodge, The residents and township of Tieri,  Kris, Nicole, Jacquie and all the staff at the Coopers plains leukaemia foundation village you guys are truly saints among people, myself and my family will be eternally grateful for your smiles, help, emotional support and that nothing is a problem attitude, a TRULY WONDERFUL ORGANISATION. To Leanne, L.C., Lesley, Lisa, Bree, Kaylene and the incredible staff at the C floor Oncology Ward at Brisbane Private Hospital and of course DR Mark Bentley you guys saved my life and I will be forever in your debt. To help people at their most vulnerable and terrible time the way you guys do is an incredible thing and I take my hat off to you. I say to any person who is reading my story if you are starting this journey you can win and above all else keep smiling and keep your chin up and carry that self belief with you and never give up life is a precious and wonderful thing filled with great and fantastic experiences and people I have been given a second chance and I am not going to waste a second of it.

KEEP SMILING,

Mike Donnelly

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