Life can throw us some unimaginable curveballs.
For Shane Seabrook, life was cruising along nicely. He was achieving great things in a job he loves and he recently married his long-time partner, Rens. Apart from some uncomfortable digestive issues, life was good.
PHOTO: L to R - Rens and Shane.
Then one day, at just 43, Shane’s whole world changed…
12 months ago, Shane saw a GP who recognised that his unresolved, irritable bowel issues may be something more sinister. After being referred to a specialist at St Vincent’s Private Hospital, tests discovered a colorectal tumour that had essentially blocked his large intestine.
A team, led by Director of Colorectal Surgery at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne,
Mr Michael Johnston, took over to investigate the tumour and to perform a stoma. This is a surgically made hole in the abdomen that allows body waste to be removed directly through the end of the bowel into a collection bag.
The news following the surgery wasn’t good. The tumour was much larger than first thought, approximately 5cm in length and had grown though the intestinal wall. And there was evidence of disease in the peritoneal cavity which Shane describes as ‘the squishy bit that holds your insides together.’
This was the first time that the reality of what Shane and Rens were facing hit them.
“The news was a massive shock because I have no family history. My family’s curse has always been heart disease. The ‘big C’ I was expecting was cardiac not cancer.
“Rens and I spent about a month going in circles trying to come to terms with the news.
“I have a doctorate in chemistry and work in health, so I couldn’t help researching bowel cancer. I discovered some pretty grim stats. Bowel cancer has previously been known as an old person’s disease, but according to recent information, the incidence in people under-50 has doubled since 1995. Worse than that, my research showed I had about a 90% chance of dying within 3-5 years.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Australia, behind breast and prostate cancer. It’s the second most common cause of death.
As he started to undergo a gruelling round of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, with the frightening statistics playing in his mind, it was hard for Shane to lift himself out of the heavy fog that had descended upon him after receiving his shocking diagnosis.
Luckily, after meeting the kind and positive St Vincent’s oncology team, his mindset started to improve.
“Dr Genni Newham has been fantastic. She’s given us so much positivity and reason to be optimistic, helping us understand the complexity of the disease and the multiple paths my journey could take. Being given a chance of extending my life has helped focus on getting through the treatment.
“The nursing staff at St Vincent’s are universally awesome. They make this horrific journey tolerable and even enjoyable at times.
“I often like to sit and observe them while I’m having my treatment. They are so caring, patient and kind to everyone. Their level of empathy is phenomenal!
“I’ve seen them deal with tricky situations, always resolving them calmly, whilst maintaining their patient’s dignity. Plus, their recollection of information is beyond impressive.”
In December 2022, after two months of radiation and chemotherapy followed by three months of chemotherapy and immunotherapy, Shane was offered a ray of hope. The therapies had been successful in shrinking the tumours and his medical team decided he was eligible for surgical intervention. This could significantly extend Shane’s life-expectancy or even be a cure.
“This was the best news we could have hoped for.”
March 2023 was the date surgery was scheduled for, and it felt like the peak of a mountain that Shane and Rens climbing. Unfortunately, despite having maintained fortnightly chemotherapy, a pre-surgery scan showed evidence of tumours on Shane’s lungs and growth of the existing disease – this was highly unexpected and halted the surgery.
“The cancellation of the surgery was the lowest point of my journey. Rens and I fell into a bit of a slump at this point. All our hope was thrown away in an instant.
“The spot on my lungs may be nothing, it may be a tumour, it might be removable, it might not. It has meant I’ve had to face three months of new chemo drugs. Chemo has been tough. I get anxious the day before my treatment. The hardest part is knowing I must go through three more months of feeling rubbish without the promise of a life-saving surgery at the end.”
Shane’s medical team remain hopeful the new chemo drugs will have the desired effect and will reassess his eligibility for surgery in the coming months.
Describing himself as an inherently optimistic person, Shane says despite the setbacks he’s focusing on living life.
“I’m allowing my cancer to be a part of my existence but I’m not letting it be my existence.
“Rens and I are prioritising enjoying good food, time with friends and precious moments together with our beloved dog, Leno. I’m also focusing on my new ‘cancer hobbies’. I’ve taken up the flute after playing it as a kid. And I’m enjoying cooking and a lot of reading. I’m able to continue work in a flexible capacity, my colleagues keep me entertained and working helps maintain a sense of normality.
“In my head I have 40 years of things still to do. But I’ve had a really fortunate and lucky existence. I’ve always tried to embrace life’s opportunities, so I don’t have any regrets.”
Shane thinks the Dry July Campaign is a great way to raise awareness for people going through cancer treatments.
“Cancer treatment is crappy. Dry July is an amazing initiative. It not only makes the general public aware of the challenges people with cancer are going through, but it also provides comfort for patients who are quite literally stuck in a chair for hours on end.
“Chemo is a bit like a two-bottle hangover without the fun. It’s honestly the most traumatic situation I’ve even been through in my life. I’m grateful for the Dry July campaign because it helps to ease the burden of cancer treatment.”
Individuals and workplace teams can sign up to do Dry July.