In March 2022, 40-year-old Melinda was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
For the five months prior, she had a chronic cough that wouldn’t go away. Each GP she visited gave her standard cough medicine such as antibiotics, antihistamine and asthma medication which did not work. Some doctors refused to see her in person assuming she had COVID-19, but each test showed a negative result. The cough was so bad that it was beginning to impact her work. Melinda was constantly exhausted, began to have night sweats and heart attack symptoms, and lost nearly 10 kg in one month.
The fourth GP took her case more seriously, leaving no stone unturned. By the time she got a diagnosis, the cancer was at stage 4 and the tumour the size of a grapefruit. Melinda was admitted immediately to hospital to start her first of six courses of chemotherapy.
“Round four of chemotherapy was the worst. It wiped out all of my white blood cells and knocked me out completely.”
Melinda had a fever and neutropenia, a condition in which there are not enough white blood cells circulating in the bloodstream.
For Melinda, what was worse than the chemotherapy was oral mucositis, a common side effect of cancer treatment. Symptoms include painful ulcers and debilitating inflammation in the mouth, tongue and throat.
The mucositis was so painful that Melinda was admitted to hospital and was there for a week and had to take opioids for the pain.
“I had excruciatingly painful ulcers in my mouth and I couldn’t eat or talk – it was the most painful thing that I’ve ever experienced. It felt like torture and I was crying every day from the pain,” Melinda said.
Watching his wife suffer through this was very difficult for Andres.
“It was like her mouth was burning, like she had just had a cup of boiling hot tea,” said Andres.
Andres felt like he had to do something to help Melinda. They both started reading medical journals and white papers to find an answer. After extensive research, Melinda and Andres discovered Photobiomodulation, a technology developed by NASA that is being used in hospitals overseas to prevent and treat oral mucositis. Photobiomodulation is a low-level laser or red-light therapy which stimulates the mitochondria in our cells to increase cellular energy and help heal and reduce pain for conditions like oral mucositis. The couple bought the Photobiomodulation technology to help heal Melinda’s mucositis symptoms.
In July 2022, Melinda finished her sixth and final round of chemotherapy and says she couldn’t have gotten through it without Andres.
“My husband is an amazing nurse. He has been instrumental in my recovery, and he went above and beyond to help me. This cancer happened to both of us. We both suffered, maybe Andy even more than me.”
Melinda and Andres believe that a cancer diagnosis is as confronting and scary for the person who has it as the person who loves you.
“There was a lot of grieving and very strong emotions. Then you just accept it and start to wonder what this crisis really wants from you. We have learnt so much and see the good this situation has taught us”, said Andres.
To their surprise, Melinda and Andres learnt that the typical lymphoma patient is actually aged 25 to 40 and female.
Melinda and Andres consider themselves to be very lucky as Andres is self-employed and has been able to be present during Melinda’s recovery.
Melinda and Andres believe that nursing is one of the most noble professions and are very grateful for the care they received at Royal North Shore Hospital. To show their gratitude and help cancer patients suffering from mucositis, they have set up a fundraising page to raise money for the Royal North Shore haematology department. The goal of this fundraiser is to create awareness of mucositis and provide the RNSH cancer ward with a photobiomodulation device to heal mucositis.
“The staff at Royal North Shore Hospital were phenomenal. From my haematologist Dr. Luke Coyle, his wonderful staff, the pathologists and nurses, they are all champions. They are under so much pressure themselves but they never failed to treat me with empathy and kindness.”
Melinda also expressed gratitude for the cancer helpline run by the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital.
“This is a beautiful free service run by cancer nurse specialists who gave me expert support when I needed it the most.”
Melinda is also very grateful to her employer Google for being so compassionate and understanding. Her boss Martin Curtis, Google leaders Arshad Mirza and Felipe Portugal, as well as numerous colleagues who were very supportive throughout her cancer journey.
John Ball, Managing Director of Google Customer Solutions AUNZ at Google, had cancer himself and was very empathetic to Melinda’s experience. He called her when she was diagnosed to share his valuable advice based on his own experience with cancer.
Leadership at Google and Melinda’s team mobilised to fundraise for the Royal North Shore Hospital Haematology department by participating in this year’s City2Surf. So far, they’ve raised nearly 30% of the funding goal.
“A cancer diagnosis is very confronting. My biggest takeaways from this experience is to protect your mindset, summon a group of allies to lift you up and to ask questions. Luckily, we live in a time where information is readily available, which can help us find solutions to challenges. I am grateful for the care I’ve received during this difficult time, and hope that our fundraiser can ease the suffering of other cancer patients.”
Northern Sydney Cancer Center – Cancer Helpline
Are you currently undergoing cancer treatment? Do you need to speak to a cancer nurse specialist? If so, please contact our free phone cancer helpline on 1800 965 222.