Pete’s Story – Stage 4a Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma, with massive Splenic & Gastric involvement.

My journey: In and Out

Pete Howarth (Melbourne) it started around the beginning of May 2007 when I was 53. Severe back pain in the left side, around the kidneys. The pain only started late in the afternoon and was debilitating lasted all night.

After a few days I went to my GP. 3 visits & 1 X-ray to check for perhaps a broken rib he sent me for a CT scan, in his words not expecting to find anything. A large shadow was found.

A Gastroscopy was scheduled at Cabrini Hospital; it was found that I had a tumour. A biopsy was taken there were apparently too many dead cells to determine what it was. I was scheduled for a 2nd, again at Cabrini, which was done by the ultimate surgeon.

I initially saw 2 specialists one other surgeon and the other oncologist specialising in stomach tumours both referred by my GP.

He (the oncologist) told me at the appointment 22nd May 2007 that it was not the sort of tumour he dealt with and admitted me to Cabrini Hospital in Melbourne on the same day.

Over the next few days as you would expect many tests prodding & poking needle in the hip drawing marrow I think and then the meeting with the Surgeon & my treating oncologist. In essence the decision that had to be made was have chemo straight up, (I was told the tumour would respond quickly and perhaps cause more problems. The Stomach & the Spleen had been invaded significantly and the collapsing tumour would most likely result in gastric perforation and may see me undergoing emergency surgery at “Quote 3am in the morning.”) Or the other alternative have an operation to remove the tumour, compromised organs and repair the subsequent damage.

After lengthy conversation with my wife it was decided to have the operation. In essence the decision was made for me, no doubt the correct one.

They operated on the Saturday 26th May 2007 removing 2/3 of my Stomach, the Spleen and a portion 10% of my pancreas & a 2 kg tumour.

It was diagnosed as Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma, Stage IVA, IPI = 2 massive Splenic & Gastric involvement. No Bone Marrow involvement.

I recall waking up in ICU and asking the surgeon what had been removed? I must say I was a bit relieved.

I was told Chemotherapy would not commence immediately as it would compromise the healing process.

3 weeks later and still in hospital it started. I must say I did not handle it to badly. No nausea but with a much smaller stomach had a great deal of trouble eating food. Something the size of a quarter of a sandwich was all I could stomach (Pardon the Pun) although I was also being fed through a tube.

Finally released scheduled to fortnightly therapy at day oncology at Cabrini 5-6 hours per treatment. I had a Permanent Intravenous Catheter PIC inserted before the operation made it a lot easer for the Chemo, the off week a steroid injection. Most sufferers would understand the rest. I did have chronic tiredness and trying to fight it. I remember my wife coming home from work one Friday night and telling her I was tired and laying on the bed around 5.30pm the next I remember was 8.45am Saturday morning. Over the 3 weeks in hospital went from 91kg to 64kg. It was sight in the mirror I must say, especially when I lost my hair. I was also experiencing what is referred to as Dumping Syndrome. Described as rapid emptying of gastric contents into the small intestine resulting in high amplitude propagated contractions. It made me nauseous & sweaty and lasted about 30 to 40 minutes. Still occurs now on occasions, usually if I eat quickly, too much or dairy products and only at breakfast go figure. One of those things you get used to like old age. For a further 6 weeks, 10 hours a day I was still receiving nutrition via an intravenous tube usually at night. The machine wasn’t the most silent apparatus and sleep was difficult for both of us. Changed for during the day certainly helped.

It was the middle of winter, I froze I have never felt cold like it. My sons were helping me walk around the block 500 metres; I was wearing a beanie, gloves, 2 jumpers, jacket, 2 pair tracksuit pants. I was wearing PJ’s and socks to bed never had previously and the heating was on all night & day.

After the 3rd treatment of steroids I had a reaction, manifested as severe abdomen pain. I was re admitted for 5 days they put it down to 1 -10,000 chance of a problem. That was resolved with my wife given a short course giving injections and getting a smaller dose every 2nd night. I sure she would make an excellent dart player. With that over went back to recovering.

Then 2 weeks later one Sunday morning more pain the worst I had ever experienced re admitted again with kidney stones was told not uncommon with the drugs I was taking but can happen. Another 3 days in hospital and back to recovering.The PET scans had started and were showing some activity they felt it was the healing occurring around the staples in my stomach.

I had 9 doses of chemo thinking it was all over I was informed that Radiation was now on the agenda 14 treatments. This was the first I had heard and was not terribly happy and also not intent on having any. That soon changed a visit from my children and a few choice words. We also had a granddaughter born on the 29th April that year.

The radiation started I was warned as they were targeting my stomach I would experience severe nausea. How wrong they were, nothing, but the upshot of all that was, as I wasn’t having any problems I could have another 6 treatments. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut.

With that all done with I went on recovering until January of 2008 when I returned to work having gained 8kg now 72kg, 3kg under my school fighting weight not a bad thing but a hell of a way to loose it.

I’m a Police Officer with Victoria Police now in my 36 year. Rank Sergeant at the Water Police. I went back on a return to work program until June 2008. 4 hours per day 2 days per week. I had plenty of sick leave owing so my time off and return to work weren’t a problem. Then back to full duty. I must indicate at this point many work mates came to visit and were marvellous supporting my family and me also Victoria Police Welfare, The Police Association. Excellent organisation’s to be a part of.

Around late July 2008, expressions of interest were advertised for Police with Marine qualifications, skill & experience for capacity building (Training) in the Solomon Islands. I applied. I know am a very lucky man and had at that time strong feelings and the need to help some less fortunate than myself.

I was successful and seconded from Victoria Police to the Australian Federal Police – International Deployment Group. Training was completed in July 2009 and I was deployed to the Solomon Islands in August of that year as Team Leader Maritime until Aug 2011. I will then return to Vic Pol until my retirement, which will not far away.

At present I return home about every 4 months for a month’s leave taken up with blood tests and a scan for a day. April my last showing no reoccurrence of the disease. My weight is hovering between 76kg and 73kg with the heat and humidity in the Solomon’s everyone experiences some weight loss.

My medication is a lifetime of antibiotics, and a number of vitamins. I am unable to absorb sufficient without supplements. Mostly tablets, with some quarterly injections.

Me thinks, not a bad outcome.

There are a number of people that were instrumental in my road to recovery; My family whose support and love made good days better and the bad days bearable.

My GP Dr Tass Tasipoulos, who without his quick investigation would have seen I think in a totally different outcome.

Professor Simon Woods (Surgeon) they are not enough adjectives to describe what I think of this man an absolute legend.

Mr Roger Berry assisting

All the staff at Cabrini from ICU, Hospital, and day Oncology they all are a credit to there respective professions – Professor Miles Prince Oncologist in the same category as Prof Woods.

Dr Saar Gill -Tattersall’s Cancer Centre Epworth Hospital.

As for my work colleagues too many to mention but it times like these you know who you friends are. The cream truly rises to the top


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