When you’re first diagnosed with cancer it doesn’t sink in. You hear the word cancer and you don’t understand what it’s going to mean for you. My thoughts were I wasn’t ready to die; my sons were only 11 and 13 years old. A father’s job is to guide and protect them. At the time I didn’t realize how ill I was, they tell you what sort of cancer it is but it doesn’t mean much. The next thing you know is you are starting chemo and before long they are doubling the dose and you are staying in hospital; it just all happens so fast. It was Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
My first day of treatment was September 11, 2001. I was sitting in hospital watching it all in New York and I said to the nurse that I may have to leave. I was ready to go to New York to help because as firefighters they were all my brothers.
In for a week of chemo, home for 3, back in for another week of chemo. The district nurse is visiting you at home giving you daily injections. I finished that treatment and went back for some scans and was told that it didn’t work. Before they started the next stage of treatment I had to have a heart and lung test to see if I was strong enough to handle the treatment. They harvested my white cells for a stem cell transplant.
Next they commenced what they refer to as a “fatal dose” of chemo where they wipe out everything. They knock out everything for 7 days and on the 8th day they put back your white cells. You go home for 3 days, which could be your last home visit ever if it doesn’t work. I was at home and dying. I’m lying on the dunny floor vomiting every colour imaginable. I felt like there was an alien inside of me. It’s the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I was admitted back to hospital 4 days later; I had lost 5 kilos in just 4 days and I was already sick.
Being admitted to hospital again I felt I might be saved, but my blood counts were still going down. It was the hardest days of my life. I felt like dying and some days I wanted to.
I was put in an isolation ward for 5 weeks and they placed me on a clinical trial as a last resort. I had 14 different types of drugs, platelets and whole blood transfusions. For the first two – three weeks I felt if I didn’t wake up it didn’t worry me. Then I was told my blood count was rising; this was a big pep-up. My appetite started returning and I was coming alive again. I started to walk in the hospital because it’s harder to hit a moving target. I got out Anzac Day 2002 only to see my Bombers get beat.
At the end of this treatment they took the pick out of my vein, I was so relieved not to have any more chemo. Unfortunately after some scans they told me I still had something there and I would need 6 weeks of radiation. About half way through the radiation the doctor told me that if this treatment didn’t work that I was going into palliative care. I went home and looked “palliative” up in the dictionary; I broke down…I was devastated. We were looking at moving home at the time and the doctor told me that it might not happen for me.
After radiation I had some scans and in July 2002 I was told I was in remission. This meant blood tests and CAT scans every three months for 3 years and then every 6 months for the next two. Then after all this time I felt a lump and on September 11, 2007; 6 years to the day from my first treatment. I was re-diagnosed with cancer and back in the Austin Hospital. I was happy it Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma again; I’d beaten it once I was going to do it again. It was in my neck and the doctor told me that if it was any higher it was untreatable and any lower it was incurable.
6 weeks of strong radiation again. This time it burnt my saliva glands and taste buds on the right side of my mouth. I smiled when they told me of my treatment because I didn’t have to go through chemo again. 6 weeks after my treatment was completed and I was away with Olivia Newton John on the Great Wall of China as one of her “survivors” raising money. It is a great cause. If it wasn’t for the people, treatment and care at the Austin Hospital I wouldn’t be here today. I owe them big time.
My son Daniel was 19 in 2008 and while I was away in China he was diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was an extremely sad time because I knew what he was in for. I remember Father’s Day, 2008, he was rushed to ICU; he couldn’t breathe. He had an allergic reaction to the chemo and an infection in the lungs. He was in ICU for a week.
When he did have his chemo he would come home and I would tell him “dad wants to give you a hug”. A gentle hug and yet with all my strength, power and thoughts in my mind I tried to take the cancer from him. He’s my son and like in the movie The Green Mile I wanted to be John Coffey and cure him.
He’s in remission now. We both share a bond from what we’ve been through and communicate in a special way, but we don’t have to talk about it. Going through it you understand how your life changes. I was fresh and healthy and thought I would live to be 100, next thing I’m only 45 and fighting for my life.
My shift-mates were forever checking up on me and my family to make sure no-one needed anything. People across the job put in time to cover my sick leave. Peter Marshall personally helped to get me a specialist appointment at the Austin Hospital.
The Firefighters Charity is a great idea. It’s a strange experience having cancer and you need help. It’s an emotional journey. This charity is something that is set-up not just to help you but your family and it will be there for the future of the Brigade. We have a dangerous job; it’s well known people get cancer from what we do. We’re getting to that age now where we have to be vigilant. Sometimes you don’t even feel sick, it was my shift-mates who noticed I was unwell. They were the ones that got me off to the doctors. 5 days later I was admitted from the emergency department and told I had a tumour and your mind just spins uncontrollably. You don’t know whose next and we’ve seen it take those close to us already.
Having been through cancer twice is a daily reminder of what I’ve been through. I check myself for lumps everyday because you just want to stay ahead of it. If everyone in the world went through this there would be no wars. Regardless of age, race, sex or religion you sit there and become friends with everyone who’s going through it. Some don’t make it and a nurse even came up to me one day and said I was so sick she thought she would never see me again.
Your family and wife go through a different journey. You make out you’re OK when they visit you, but all you really want to do is lay down and sleep. Sadly I’d get angry sometimes because you don’t want them to see you suffer. But all they want to do is spend time with you because they don’t know what the future holds. I reckoned I was tough but this was the hardest thing I have ever encountered.
I am thinking of retiring now, going to enjoy life. Who knows how long I have left. It will be hard because coming to work has been therapy for me. I come here to feel normal and have a laugh with my mates. They’ve been through this with me. It will be hard to say goodbye.
LFF Scott Morrison