Cancer & My Road To Recovery

Cancer & My Road To Recovery

Cancer & My Road To Recovery

I wanted to give you an update on myself and my experiences over the last 18 months. It has certainly been a roller coaster. But a rollercoaster you sometimes cannot avoid. One I had to jump on, strap in and ride out the highs and lows. Emotionally and physically. I feel a lot wiser. Sometimes like a 90 year old in a 39 year old body. Some say I have lost the energy. But I feel like I channel the energy a lot smarter these days. I bring home with me, a different mindset. An enthusiasm to make a difference and a fire in my belly to create something big.

Firstly, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for your ongoing support. Yours and also the teams at PhysioFlex. They have stuck by me and have done an incredible job running the business. Jenny, Mike, James and Riko you are all treasures and the most loyal of people. You create the family vibe PhysioFlex strive to create. So thank you. Everyone.

Ben Physio in front of southport clinic

My Story

On March 12, 2022 I finally was admitted in to see the nasopharyngeal specialist about an ongoing blocked nostril that I had. It was occasionally bleeding. I was uncomfortable with the symptoms, somewhat embarrassed at times with patients. It didn’t hurt. It was just difficult to breathe through the one nostril as it had become totally blocked. I sounded like I had a constant cold. Some headaches had also started but they were very vague and I didn’t actually relate the two. I was often asked what it was by patients and I would quite simply respond with the answer that I was given from the doctors. A polyps in the nose. Little did I know life was about to change pretty quickly. It started with the look on the doctors face. I was expecting a surgery date to remove the polypse. But it was like the doctor had been spooked. His words..” Ah yes, [Pause] this… isn’t a polyps.” With eyes as wide as an owl in headlights. He didn’t appear to deal with cases like this very often. He went on to say that it appeared to be cancer and he wasn’t sure of the extent of the cancer. If it had metastasised or if it was malignant. How big it was. Or any other details. But it was cancer. It was a whole bunch of noise that turned into a murmur after that. I tried to keep my cool demeanour, wanting to always please everyone that I came into contact with. 

I walked out of the clinic assuming the worst. I cried. Thoughts of “What was all this for? Why do I even care about my financial position, what was the reason for this? All of those goals, plans and ambitions you have are suddenly not important. Nothing is important. Time becomes the most precious commodity. Time slows down. You look at the trees, the sky and you look up and ask, “what is this?”. Family become your listening ears, your shoulder to cry on. Friends become absolute pillars of strength and admiration.

Your mind quickly turns your negative thoughts to positive. Well at least I had to. Your competitive instincts and will to fight kick in. I realised I otherwise felt great. I was still going to the gym and I was still feeling good within myself. So, I flooded with positive emotion and felt I knew this was confined to my nostril.  I knew it and there was nothing else that mattered. The doctor rushed me to the gold Coast Hospital to see the head and neck team. They felt this a was more complicated case and wanted to have me reviewed by the specialists in Brisbane at the PA Hospital to be reviewed by their ENT specialist team. The MRI, CT and blood tests were hurried through but it was still a long 2 week wait. The wait was scary. Close family were hysterical but I remained really positive.

nose gauze and and bandaging post nasal tumour resection
After the surgery with nose gauze and bandaging still in place

The Surgery

The MRI scan result was a large malignant 50mm x 80mm x 40mm left endonasal carcinoma originating from the posterior nasal septum that morphed into the nasal cavities and surrounding cavities around the eye and against the base of the brain within the cribiform plate. The fantastic news was that this cancer had not metastasised to any other parts of the body. It was a huge relief. But they were not sure if there were flecks of cancerous tumour within the brain. So it was good news but still a large aura of proceed with caution. The surgery was booked for April 20, 2022. I am glad I went into the surgery none the wiser. Without any real detail as to how they would remove this mass. Because if I knew a big cut to open up my head from ear to ear was about to be performed, I would have really struggled. They cut me open, and peeled the skin forward over my face to reveal the cavities. A hole in the skull between the eyes was also made in order to remove the tumour and plate at the base of the skull. A percranial flap from my skull on top of my head was also used for the skull base reconstruction.

4 days after the surgery- The scar from ear to ear.
4 days after the surgery- Across the top of the head. The smaller incision was where the flap was used for the base of skull reconstruction.
Mum (Jenny) with me after the surgery leaving the hospital.

4 days after the surgery

Initially, it felt like I had been run over by a bus. I didn’t want to move for the first 24 hours. But I quickly regained energy and my balance and was leaving the hospital 5 days after the surgery.

Over the next 4 weeks the scarring, surgery and my outlook improved a great deal. It felt like I got myself back pretty quickly but I knew I had the radiation to come starting in June. Again, I think my naivety and lack of knowledge on radiation helped me get through the next phase. It was certainly the most arduous, mentally challenging and symptomatically the hardest part of the treatment. This is where the journey truly began.  

The Beginning of the Journey

Radiation on your head, nose, throat and neck is one of the hardest things I will ever have to do in my life.  Every living cell in the radiation area is killed off. Crustaceans, mucous and dry scabs form throughout your nose and throat. You can not eat. I needed to drink soup but would gag with every mouthful. My nose was bleeding and dry and it felt like my skin was continuously burnt and being peeled or lasered off throughout my hole head. It was so hard to breathe and my throat was dry as a bone.  It lasted 6 weeks. For 15mins each weekday. The process got harder and harder each day. To the point where I felt as though I was going to need a plug in the stomach to feed me. I would stay in bed for 22 hours of the day. I used sport to try and distract me. I would slowly get more and more burnt and red and lose my hair each week. Here are some images of my time during the process.

Week 1 – Started to feel a bit red in the face but was in control. Still managed some exercise.
Week 2- Thought I was going to get through it all okay and felt positive. This wasnt going to be so bad.
Week 3- Started to realise this was a marathon. I shut down communication and didn’t want to talk to anyone. Eating became my only objective and marathon battle each day. Completing a small meal was a big win.
Week 4- Driving to the treatments was super emotional. I would cry each time and couldn’t handle the sun and glare on my eyes. It was painful, but the mental battle was the hardest.
Week 5- I started to lose all my hair. I knew there wasn’t long to go but alI I could do was try and distract myself with sport.
Week 6- Was shut down mode. I didn’t move from the bed. The gagging and swallowing was so hard. I was down to 55Kilogrms.

The Recovery

Over the next 2 months, I was able to slowly eat normally again. I was able to regain my weight and my strength. By October I felt back to my normal self. I was left with a few little things that I won’t regain like my smell and taste and forever forming nose crustaceans from the radiation. But I have my life. I have more time. For which I am very grateful.

Probably more surprising to most is the mental struggle and difficulty you have with this process. The mental battle and marathon that it takes to get to  the finish line is just so hard to explain. Your mind tries to quickly forget about it and move forward so reflecting and trying to think back to it is very hard. The thoughts of having to talk about it with colleagues and patients was very overwhelming. I realised I wasn’t ready to confront people about it or start back at work. I needed more time out to recover, physically but also emotionally. To be able to treat and show empathy to my patients, I needed to have healed myself. I needed to be ready.  

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

Despite this struggle, in every cloud, there is a silver lining. And 2022, was about finding the most amazing woman and supporter that I could have ever hoped for. I thought Jesica would run the other way when finding out this news. Instead it brought us closer together than I could have ever imagined. I am one lucky bugger. It was time for me to give back to the person that stood by me. Jesica hadn’t been home to Colombia for 5 years. So we planned a trip away in March 2023 to see them together. And this brings me to the current day. We are still on that trip 5 months later. The time away has allowed for me to reset. To think and reflect. To seek new perspectives and recharge my energy. To ask myself what I wanted to do going forward in my life. What my purpose was and then to educate myself. It has been a journey of self-discovery and growth. It has given me a clarity about the future that I never really think I have ever had.

Jess and I before my radiation treatment began at Gold Coast Hospital
Jes and I in Paris on our 6 month South American and Euro trip in front of the Eiffel Tower. It exceeded our expectations going here together.

Returning To Clinic Hours

So I am excited to announce that I am preparing myself to return home and start work in the clinic and on the business from October 9. Some would think I would need a new beginning. To smell the roses in Byron Bay. And at first this is what I wanted to do. But the last 18 months has given me that real opportunity to reflect and genuinely realise what I want to do. What I love and where I want to be. I feel more educated, wiser and clear about what lies ahead for me. I am excited for the future and where I want to take PhysioFlex. How I want to grow PhysioFlex. And I can’t wait to bring this renewed enthusiasm and insights I’ve gained to our practice, where I’ll be available Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays mornings and Thursday nights. I sincerely wish you all the very best. And I really do look forward to seeing you down at the clinic. It is time to come and say hello and catch up. I cant wait to see you 🙂 


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