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From kidney stones to chemo

Wayne’s stubborn determination to see his grandkids grow up

Wayne Douglas spent more than half a lifetime working with heavy rock and concrete in the civil construction industry. And the 68-year-old needed to be as tough as the products he supplied after a shock blood cancer diagnosis.

In 2018, during what should have been a straightforward scan for kidney stones, doctors spotted an unusual lesion on his hip bone. In just a matter of days he was facing life with a relatively rare type of cancer called myeloma.

Wayne joined the roughly 2,600 people diagnosed with myeloma in Australia each year.

Myeloma is an incurable cancer of the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell. Myeloma cells multiply without any proper order, collecting to form tumours, especially in the bone marrow and on the surface of the bone. Its cause is unknown and it can’t be prevented.

The married father-of-three said: “My diagnosis was very upsetting and a complete shock. I’ve tried to do all the right things in my life; I don’t smoke, I don’t drink too much. But then something like this happens. I try not to dwell on that too much.

“It was an accidental diagnosis really. I was feeling sore and sorry for myself because of the kidney stones but two weeks later I was having chemotherapy for cancer. There was no messing around.”

Infection risk during chemotherapy

Wayne underwent three long months of chemotherapy to get his cancer under control, but things took an unexpected and terrifying turn on the final day of his first course of treatment.

With his immune system compromised by chemo, Wayne’s temperature suddenly “skyrocketed”. Doctors found he had contracted a dangerous infection that then developed into pneumonia. He was placed into an induced coma and rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne where he spent more than a month in intensive care, much of the time on life support.

Wayne says on several occasions doctors discussed with his wife whether it was time to turn off his life support.

He explained: “It’s been very tough to have that on my mind, knowing I have put my family through so much.

“I had to learn to use a knife and fork again. Learn to walk again. Learn to talk again.

“The doctors said I would be lucky if I walked again but I’m out playing golf after a six-year break – something I was told I would never be able to do. I’m a very determined person and have a point to prove!”

Now a grandfather of five, Wayne has required ongoing treatment for his blood cancer, including a stem cell transplant at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.

A stem cell transplant, also known as a bone marrow transplant, repopulates bone marrow damaged by disease and treatment with healthy blood stem cells.

Living in rural Victoria’s Echuca West, three-and-a-half hours from Melbourne, Wayne and his wife, Donna, faced long days on the road and many nights away from their home.

Wayne said: “We had to do a lot of travelling to Melbourne for treatment. It’s a seven-hour round trip – it takes its toll physically, emotionally and financially. The travel costs, time and everything else – it all ends up playing on your mind.”

Wayne had to wait several years for Government benefits and so he was forced to use up his leave entitlements at work, take early retirement and then raid his superannuation to help pay the bills.

The Leukaemia Foundation provides accommodation support for people with blood cancer from rural and regional Australia, who must travel to access their treatment. Last year, the Leukaemia Foundation provided more than 37,000 nights of accommodation to 550 families.

“The Leukaemia Foundation were so helpful; they arranged and subsidised accommodation during my treatment in Melbourne. It meant we were able to walk to and from treatment each day. It was wonderful.

“I don’t have enough words to describe all the amazing people involved in my cancer care.”

Exercise as complementary therapy

Wayne continues to have regular tests and treatment to keep his blood cancer under control, but he says his life has greatly improved since his transplant.

No complementary therapy on its own can treat blood cancer, but Wayne says he has turned to regular exercise and long hours walking on the golf course to help manage his disease alongside his conventional treatments.

He explained: “I exercise four times a week at my local gym, which I love to do, and I’ve resumed playing competitive golf.

“I’m quite determined and stubborn when it comes to my exercise program. I do struggle with fatigue but I find being active gives me a lot more strength and mobility.

“Exercise is good for my soul, too, and gives me a sense of confidence. I don’t know what I’d do without it! It’s something positive that has come out of all of this.”

Donna has also been by his side throughout. He added: “I love her dearly, along with my family. This journey has put my whole life in a different perspective and with a completely different outlook.

“My biggest fear is I won’t see my grandchildren grow up; I want to be around a lot longer. My hope is we do come up with a cure, not just for my disease but all blood cancers. I’ve seen too many others go through it and my hope is we get on top of it.”

Discover how complementary therapies could benefit you by reading, watching and listening to easy-to-understand information in our ‘Transition to a new normal’ learn module.

Last updated on May 30th, 2024

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.