Neglected cancers real lives
At 11 Luke Ryan was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma (cancerous bone tumour) in the back of his left knee. He had 12 months of chemotherapy with five different agents, enduring three-to-five-day hospital stays with breaks of 10 days between each one. He remembers the treatment as ‘A lot, a long time and just beyond horrendous’.
‘Three months in, I had a seven-hour limb salvage operation that left me with a full knee replacement, a slight leg extension and half a dead person’s femur, and without most of my quads. It was not fun.’
Even in a close and comparatively well-off family, Luke says it’s hard to overstate how tough that year was for everyone.
Following treatment Luke was monitored for five years and then the month before he finished school, his doctors told him he was cured. Luke says he cried, not from joy, but because he had survived.
Then when Luke was 22 he was diagnosed with sarcoma for the second time, this time in his right arm. He had just finished an arts degree at Melbourne University and was part way through a law degree.
On this occasion, however, the treatment was much easier to tolerate with two nine-week batches of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy. Three to five days in hospital became two to three hours. ‘I was energetic, healthy and for the first time in months no longer crippled with pain. Chemotherapy made me feel substantially better than I did before. It was really something.’
Luke has been clear of sarcoma for eight years now and his monitoring is being wound down.
Receiving a rare cancer diagnosis not once, but twice, has made Luke acutely aware of the importance of medical research. ‘The change in treatment methodologies between my two tumours and the impact that had on my lived experience cannot be overstated – in the first, an intolerable barrage of crippling chemotherapy that almost killed me. In the second, a well-measured regime that allowed me to continue on with my life largely unchanged. That happened in just 11 years. Incredible things can be achieved, so long as we continue to work towards them.’