WE’RE all familiar with blood … each of us contains several litres of the red stuff. Vampires find it delectable and if it all leaks out you die.
But there is far more to this vital fluid than that. Blood is a complex mixture of red and white calls, minerals, salts, hormones and much more. It transports gases around the body, removes waste products from every cell, attacks foreign invading bacteria and viruses and helps us to regulate temperature. Basically it is an all-purpose wonder fluid, a marvel of the evolutionary process – lifeblood.
Until recently, for us country folk, this meant hours of travel to one of the major Melbourne hospitals, paying extortionate parking fees, long waits in a waiting room and a drive home through peak-hour traffic. No one’s idea of a good day out, especially if you have just learned that you are seriously unwell.
That has been my experience for the past 20 years. First, endless trips to the Royal Children’s Hospital so the haematologists could cure my then two-year-old son’s leukaemia, fortunately with excellent results. It was an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (well, maybe with a couple of exceptions). Those talented and caring doctors enabled me to watch my son grow into a man, surely the greatest gift one can receive.
The education those genuine miracle workers provided proved invaluable in more recent years when I needed their help myself. In 2012 I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma. I found myself undergoing two years of chemotherapy at Monash. So many tests, scans, needles and drugs, along with more trips down the Bass and South Gippsland highways. The treatment regime was gruelling but resulted in a very good partial remission.
Now the story takes an interesting turn. At one appointment, Professor Stephen Opat asked if I would be interested in attending a new clinic being established at Wonthaggi Hospital. I agreed, as it would mean no more full day expeditions to Melbourne for a 20-minute appointment. And so in January 2019 I found myself under the care of Dr George Grigoriadis, whom I had seen at Monash, and Dr Abbey Wilcox, from the Austin Hospital. The clinic and their expertise were now five minutes from home.
Abbey decided that a CT scan was in order as I had been feeling “a bit off” and this revealed a new lump in my abdomen. Bugger! Here we go again. As it was in a difficult spot, surrounded by important organs, a biopsy was anything but routine. Three attempts at Monash ultimately revealed the lymphoma had returned. In early 2020, Abbey arranged for me to start treatment, this time at the sparkling new OIivia Newton John Cancer Centre, part of the Austin Hospital. My volunteer chauffeurs (big thanks to Nishy, Geoff, Mum and especially our illustrious editor Catherine) ensured I was at the right place and right time for treatment. The quality of care at the Austin was perfect and my first three rounds of therapy went well.
Last month Abbey said “Right! We can now provide your treatment at Wonthaggi.” While staff grappled with preparing for a possible influx of COVID patients at Wonthaggi Hospital, chemotherapy services have been moved to the dental clinic. So last month I spent two days in a dentist’s chair receiving the very newest monoclonal antibody and chemotherapy literally around the corner from where I grew up.
I am still gobsmacked that I can be hooked up to some super-advanced medical system in my home community then drive home in five minutes and be giving the dogs a pat. New staff members have been appointed to cater for patients’ every need – thanks to chemo nurses, Pat, Shannon and Anna, Mandy the receptionist, Anne the pharmacist, and of course Abbey and George, the good doctors.
There has been an enormous amount of work by Bass Coast Health staff to get to this point while also juggling a major rebuilding program, computer system crashes and the COVID-19 crisis. A superhuman effort by all.
A new purpose-built cancer treatment centre is soon to be built at Wonthaggi Hospital featuring eight treatment spaces providing Bass Coast residents with a boutique state-of-the-art day chemo experience. Our local community is already fund-raising for extra goodies to enhance the experience for all those suffering from the scourge of cancer.
This is another proud chapter in the history of our community and one that I hope to be around to watch evolve. The term “game changer” is often bandied about but this is the “real deal”.