The mole my husband found on his arm at 34 looked so tiny and insignificant. Neither he nor I realised the effect it would have on our lives. He was diagnosed with cancer, melanoma to be precise, and five years later he passed away.
His name was Mark and he was my hero. My name is Trish and I was his champion. This is our story.
We met at the tender age of sixteen and became childhood sweethearts. It sounds clichéd, but from the moment we locked eyes in the school yard, we were inseparable.
After our school days, Mark threw himself into an apprenticeship as a fitter and machinist, but it was four years later that he found his true calling. Mark settled into life as an Officer with the Police Force – a career that would give him a great sense of worth and pride for nearly twenty years. Sharing his desire to help others, I trained as a nurse and have worked in healthcare ever since.
Mark made a wonderful home for us on the Central Coast and we went on to have two beautiful children, a daughter and a son. As a family, we were sport mad – always tuning in to the latest AFL game or heading to the local stadium to be amongst the excitement. We had two lively dogs, poppy and benny, who kept us on our toes!
One day, Mark spotted a mole on his arm. He went to the GP and was told it was nothing to worry about. Three months later, it was still playing on his mind, so he returned and asked to have it removed. The results came back, bearing the news no one wants to hear. As the age of just 34, Mark was diagnosed with late stage melanoma. We were in complete shock.
Cancer changed everything for us. Mark couldn’t concentrate on anything anymore. He was worried about his job, worried about the future of his family, and most of all – worried that he was going to die. There’s no question that it had an impact on our relationship.
At the time, we didn’t get much support and we both felt very alone. Our GP spoke to us and handed over a pamphlet, I think. We were then referred on to a Professor at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, who told us Mark was going to be put on a trial program as they were still conducting research into his specific cancer type. I didn’t really know what that meant. Information was scarce at that time and Google didn’t exist in the way it does today. Additionally, we had no support groups to turn to. It was a time when a friendly face or crucially an ear could have meant everything to us. It would have been great to have a community of people in the same boat to lean on and learn from.
The Cancer Aid App is a brilliant idea and we would have valued it greatly at the time. It connects you with people who are going through the same journey as you are. It helps you understand the cancer you have. It gives you control over your journey by helping you to organise your treatments, medical appointments, understand the medications and their side-effects. It connects you with your doctor in a way that I would have never imagined possible. When you feel alone, information and comfort is beside you.
The toughest thing for Mark, my hero, was coming to terms with his diagnosis. It’s one thing to be told you have cancer, but quite another to live with not knowing what comes next, not knowing what treatment you have to endure, not knowing how long you have left. I wanted to be his champion, to be there for him. But sometimes, I found it hard to know what to say and how to give him the support he so desperately needed.
I’ve learnt a lot from being a champion. At the time, we lived in a bubble, and no one around us knew the impact Mark’s cancer had on us. We always tried hard to put on a brave face for family and friends. I now realise how therapeutic it is to talk and share your experiences, the good and the bad. It’s so important to be informed about a diagnosis and what treatments exist out there. Not only to help yourself, but to support your hero, and make the best choices – together.
It’s been 13 years since my hero passed away and not a day goes by when I don’t think about him. But looking forward, I’m optimistic about the future. I now live with my partner and take enjoyment from every little thing life has to give – like walking down the beach, talking to my kids or cheering on my local team. But I still want to share my experience to help others and I want people going through what I did to have access to the support and information they need.
I still see Mark in the faces of my children, who have grown into the beautiful young adults we dreamed about together. That’s why resources like CancerAid are important. They have the power to not only change the lives of heroes and champions, but shape the futures of those around them for good.