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24
Jul
2017

Bonnie's brain cancer story


Bonnie (centre) and friends Gemma and Nadia 

By Bonnie Palmer 

I’m a copywriter from Melbourne who was diagnosed with a stage 3 glioma (Anaplastic Astrocytoma) in September 2016, after suffering from a seizure. I was 35 years-old at the time, and apart from the odd dizzy spell and slight loss of appetite, I was feeling in great health. 

Needless to say, the diagnosis came as a huge shock, as did the news that this was terminal and something I would have to try and live with for as long as possible. I’ve since had brain surgery, followed by six weeks of intensive radiotherapy and I'm now on chemotherapy tablets (Temodal) for 5 days every 28 days, until January next year.

All of the medical staff who have treated me have been incredible. Myron Rogers was my surgeon at Cabrini hospital and did an amazing job of taking out as much of the tumour as he could, without affecting my ability to talk or walk. Then I was off to the radiology team at the Alfred Hospital. The nurses and technicians who I saw five times a week for six weeks felt like family by the end. I had to wear a radiotherapy mask, which I really struggled with. It’s fixed so tight over your face that if you’re an anxious person like I am, you can convince yourself that you can’t breathe. I could, of course, it just took a lot of patience on the team’s part who were constantly reassuring. These nurses and technicians see sick people at all different stages of their illness and they do such an incredible job of keeping our spirits up.

Now I’m back at Cabrini in the very capable hands of Neuro-Oncologist Dr Ronnie Freilich. His dry sense of humour and gentle manner always put me at ease, as does that of his brain tumour nurse Emma.

My family and friends … wow I don’t really know where to start. Sadly, I lost my mum to cervical cancer four years ago so she hasn’t been here (but I believe she is playing her own part from wherever she is). As soon as he heard the news, my dad Chris booked a flight out of his native New Zealand and spent two and a half months in Melbourne taking care of me. My brother Ben and his partner Laura were visiting with food every week when I was really ill and now they still take me to appointments and check-in all the time. I have three wonderful aunties who have all been amazing, especially my aunty Lee who basically put her life on hold for the first few months and continues to be like a surrogate mum to me.

I’m very lucky to have an incredible bunch of friends. One in particular, Rhian Rees, set up a Go Fund Me page to help get me through the many months I had to take off work and cover my medical bills. People’s generosity was astounding and still amazes me when I think of it. All of my friends have been patient, loving and understanding and they organise weekends away to help keep my spirits up. I’ve also been training with a lovely lady called Bella Sood for about six months now and I believe keeping my fitness up is playing a huge part in my ability to manage the tumour.

I returned to work on the marketing team at Medibank a few months ago and that has also been super important. I only do three half days at the moment, as my energy tends to burn out more quickly than it used to. But I’m loving writing again, and the social aspect of being part of an awesome team of people. Medibank has been incredibly flexible and patient and I feel lucky to work there.

I'm sharing this story because it's one of hope, and there aren't many of those when it comes to brain tumours. At the beginning, my doctors were unsure if I would respond to treatment, as this type of tumour often doesn't. So far I am responding, the tumour remains stable and while that could change at any time at least I know I have options now. 

My focus this year has been on my own health and getting as well as I possibly can. However, I am also passionate about many other causes. I donate to and support this wonderful organisation, as well as Beanies 4 Brain Cancer, Cure MND and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. I also encourage all my friends to do the same.

I know I have a long road ahead and anything could change at any time, but all I wanted was a fighting chance, and I feel I have that now. I also write a blog called Cancer Girl which I hope people might take some comfort from reading. I try and look at things with a sense of humour wherever possible. That has been difficult at times, but I think I've done a pretty decent job. I also think my approach of embracing the prescribed medical treatment alongside things like daily turmeric and magnesium tablets and meditation, has helped get me to where I am right now. 

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