Canley Vale resident Joe Tran was celebrating his 27th birthday in September 2014 when he thought he had constipation.
Unfortunately he was wrong. He was he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
“I went to the emergency department and told the triage nurse that my haemoglobin levels were 55, meaning I was anaemic,” he said.
“To find where the bleeding was coming from the doctors performed a colonoscopy and endoscopy.
“There was no easing in; the doctor just said you had cancer. I was shocked. I didn’t accept it at first. I was in denial for about three months.”
After his diagnosis in November 2014, the 31-year-year-old has been on a four-year roller coaster ride of emotions.
There was the initial thought of hope after the first keyhole surgery to remove the cancer that he could emulate his mother who had beaten breast cancer.
This was short lived as he found out the cancer had mutated into a rare form, and now occupied his peritoneal walls (the tissue that holds your intestines in place).
Following a peritonectomy, Joe was also told the cancer had now spread to his liver and lymph nodes.
But all wasn’t lost. After a successful second surgery he thought he was on his way to becoming a “cancer survivor” after completing chemotherapy.
"I was then asked to do a follow up CT scan to see if everything was OK. My oncologist looked at the scans and told me more bad news; the cancer had returned and was spreading quickly,” he said. “This meant more chemotherapy for the next two years. It destroyed me; by the end by body was rejecting it. I wasn’t bale to eat or walk or do anything – I was bed-bound. The pain was getting worse by the day.”
Sadly, things were about to get worse. On a routine visit to the hospital for radiation, the doctor called him in for his treatment. Only when he tried to stand up, he couldn’t.
“The cancer had gone to my bones; mainly the spine, neck and around the sternum,” he said.
He thought the worse. While Joe’s mother beat her cancer, his uncle and grandfather both lost their lives to bowel cancer.
Recently his aunty (breast) and cousin (stomach) have been diagnosed with cancer after going for routine check-ups.
But a new immunotherapy drug has given him renewed hope of beating stage-four colorectal cancer.
The problem is it is not cheap.
The drug, which has reduced his blood cancer count from mid-20s to one, originally cost $8000 per month. Now it is $800 per treatment.
Joe’s family has already sold one of their cars to fund the drug which is Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listed for some cancers, but not his.
Through Rare Cancers Australia, Mr Tran has raised more than $21,000 for his treatment. He is hoping to raise $100,000 to “wipe from his mind” the thought of trying to sustain medical bills.
“I would no longer have to wonder if I am able to afford treatment in three weeks’ time, or a years’ time,” said Joe at the prospect of reaching his goal.
“I am happy with how amazing this medication is and the effects it has on my illness. I am not going to give up and I will fight this battle until the end.”
More will be know about Mr Tran’s long-term prognosis at an upcoming check-up but he said it looks “more positive”.
- To donate visit: treat.rarecancers.org.au/campaign/2055/helping-joe-tran.