31 Aug 2018
Publication date Fri 31 Aug 2018
2 minute read
Alan Peck, Melbourne
The biggest surprise
Hi, my name is Al Peck. I am 60 years old and I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in September 2017. As mature adults, our lives usually consist of planning and discussing activities before actually doing them. This allows us to mentally prepare for anything from a new job to a holiday. We can ease ourselves into it.
I think it's fair to say that getting cancer is one of the biggest surprises you can have. When I went home and told my wife and kids, the first thing we said is that we need to determine a strategy and attitude about this situation.
I am no comedian, but I have owned a number of comedy venues and have spent a lot of years laughing about everything that life presents. Our family decided that, no matter what happens, we will joke and make light of the situation because I had very little control of the outcome anyway.
I had arranged a big 60th birthday bash prior to my news. When we all got together everyone was very worried about me. I had, by that time, spent a lot of time at The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre with the magnificent staff who treated me with so much care, humour and compassion. So I set the tone of the party by saying, in my party speech, "If I knew how wonderful everyone was at Peter Mac, I would have got cancer 20 years ago!"
I had the choice of trying two operations, the second being robotic surgery, or go straight to chemo and radiation. I have never been a smoker or drug taker and I don't even drink spirits, so I thought I would try the drug-free operation. They told me there was no guarantee of success and I said OK. I can't deny the operations were pretty tough, but when you have fantastic support around you, like at Peter Mac, that makes a huge difference.
Once the operations settled down and they had a look, my 35mm lump had almost gone, but, as Maxwell Smart would say, "missed it by that much." There was 1.6mm left after the operation, because they couldn't go any nearer to my vocal folds I believe - bugger. When the doctor came in to tell me, I really felt for him. I told him they advised me well and I would have always chosen that path first even though there was no guarantee.
I went through almost seven weeks of chemo once a week and radiation every week-day which was “interesting” to say the least. I didn't lose my hair or get sick with chemo. I feel good now, albeit still pretty tired, and my primary cancer has gone. If you are going to get cancer, this is the right time in the history of the world to do it. So, as strange as it sounds, I feel very lucky. I also feel honoured to have dealt with all the amazing people at Peter Mac. They have changed my life by seeing the way they handle adversity for others.