Our story began in July 2018. We had just returned from the trip of a lifetime in South Africa, where we celebrated Seans 30th birthday. We brought home with us quite the souvenir for our families, finding out we were in fact 3 months pregnant with our first child. Little did we know at the time, this was not the only surprise life was about to throw our way.
Sean had been suffering with pain in his rib cage for several weeks, which doctors prescribed as a pulled muscle from the gym and to continue taking Nurofen for the inflammation. Either that or you have cancer, haha. We decided to seek the advice of another doctor, who sent Sean for a number of scans. It was then they noticed some abnormalities. After 10 days in hospital, and a number of biopsies and scans later, Sean was diagnosed with Appendix Cancer. We had not caught it early. The pain in his rib cage turned out to be tumour that had spread throughout his entire abdominal cavity.
He started chemo (Zelox) immediately, in hopes that it would shrink the mass of tumour before surgeons in Brisbane would consider him suitable for a Peritonectomy & HIPEC. After 9 weeks of treatment, Sean’s scan results showed little improvement however seemed to be contained. He began another 3 rounds of chemo with a CT scan planned for 6 weeks’ time.
In October we welcomed baby Maxwell into the world. Between juggling a newborn, cancer treatment and managing the side effects that went along with it, working (yes, Sean was pretty incredible), life got a little crazy, but we did it. We continued the fight now as a team of three, stronger and more determined than ever.
It was November and Sean’s surgery had finally been confirmed, however only 2 weeks later when visiting his Oncologist for scripts they told him that the surgeons had simply ‘changed their minds’ and now considered him inoperable. Giving up was not an option for Sean. He kept researching and connecting with other people all over the world, seeking alternative treatment options. Cancer was not going to stop him.
In December, we headed to Sydney to meet Professor David Morris and his team who founded the peritonectomy surgery. Nervous was an understatement as we plead our case with his surgical team. We were realistic in realising this was Seans last hope for surgery. A week later we got the phone call we had hoped for, the go ahead for surgery in January!
December was a whirlwind month as we nervously waited for the move interstate and the reality of the surgery, the possible complications and recovery that was ahead of us. We were nervous, scared, hopeful and realistic all at the same time. Sean’s pain was at its worst, he found himself back in hospital with kidney damage, fevers, severe bloating and a loss of appetite. We just had to make it through December.
9th January 2019 was the big day, he was ready to tackle ‘the mother of all surgeries’ with a smile on his face. A true hero to us all. After 14 hours and so much dedication from a team of 40 people, Sean was out of surgery and kept in a medically induced coma in the ICU. Although there was a lot of disease, the surgery was a success.
Unfortunately, 1 week later as Sean was about to be cleared for the general ward, he started to experience excruciating pain in his chest. It was confirmed that he had a pericardial effusion (fluid around his heart) and was taken back to surgery. The medical team prepared us for the worst as they were unsure if Sean would be able to recover from such major surgeries in such a short space of time.
Sean was kept in a medically induced coma for 3 weeks while surgeons kept a close eye on persistent fluid and an infection around his heart. The cause of this being stomach bile from his peritonectomy entering his chest cavity. We always knew there was a chance of complication, but not quite like this. He was now up to surgery number 5.
On the 8th February 2019 he was finally taken off the breathing tube and was awake! It was time to get used to a new life with an ileostomy, lots of medication, a weaker body, a new diet and a few less organs. Sean didn’t care about any of that, he had done it. The surgery was successful, and he was back with his family. We still had a long road ahead of us and his cancer journey certainly wasn’t over, but we were ready to tackle it, together like we always did.
A month later and we were finally ready to go home, the three of us and my goodness did it feel good. 11 weeks post peritonectomy, and only one admission to hospital with dehydration, Sean was doing great! His first CT scan 2 months post op came back with no sign of cancer left in his abdomen. We were nothing but grateful, hopeful for the future and loving the much-needed family time after a roller coaster start to 2019.
In May, Sean was admitted back to hospital due to increased bloating and abdominal pain. He was put on a pain pump for chronic pain management. The doctors in Brisbane identified a bowel obstruction however refused to investigate further due to his now ‘foreign anatomy’. We found ourselves back in Sydney for Professor Morris to operate. He found a slight tumour recurrence, which luckily due to the symptoms it caused was caught early.
104 nights in hospital, 1 peritonectomy with HIPEC, 2 laparotomies, 3 surgeries for pericardial effusion, 2 surgeries for tumour recurrence, 13 rounds of chemo, 23 oncology appointments and countless scans, blood tests, biopsies and medication. We had a baby, Sean celebrated his first Father’s Day, we had our first family holiday to Western Australia, we moved out of our apartment and bought our dream family home. Nothing stopped Sean, he battled metastatic cancer of the Appendix. He fought hard and lived harder. He never gave up.
On the 31st October 2019, the day before we got the keys to our new home, Sean had a seizure on his way home from work. He was rushed to hospital in fear that the cancer had spread to his brain. Luckily, the results came back clear.
I wish we really did get lucky and Seans story could have continued. On the 26th November 2019 we lost our hero. He was in his new home surrounded by family and his closest friends. Although I say we weren’t lucky, we were lucky in so many other ways. We made the most of everyday. Sean never let cancer get in the way of him living life exactly the way he wanted. He never let this disease define him. It wasn’t easy, he had his bad days, but he never gave up. He fought until the very end.
Loving Partner of Sean