A TIMELY surfing injury and a new cutting-edge cancer treatment may have saved the life of Booragoon man Brett Smith.
After suffering through both invasive surgery and chemotherapy, Mr Smith has a new lease on life after discovering the benefits of CyberKnife, a hi-tech robotic machine that provides targeted radiation.
Mr Smith was diagnosed with mesothelioma in late 2013 after an ultrasound on an unrelated sore shoulder discovered a shadow next to his lung.
“The doctor immediately referred me to a specialist, who was quite concerned because I actually lived the first two years of my life in Wittenoom, which obviously is well known for its nearby asbestos mine,” Mr Smith said.
“When I was in my early 20s I also built a house in Kardinya and put up the asbestos fencing myself. I also laid asbestos water pipes working for the Public Works Department.”
With Mr Smith’s prior asbestos exposure in mind, doctors immediately decided urgent surgery was required.
“It was a six-hour, fairly radical surgery during which the top half of my left lung, two ribs, the pleural lining and a couple of muscles were all removed,” Mr Smith said.
Even with surgery at such an early stage, the aggressive nature of mesothelioma meant doctors did not believe Mr Smith would survive past 18 months and so he embarked on an intensive chemotherapy program to try to prevent, or at least delay, the cancer from returning.
“My surgery was in November 2013 and I started chemotherapy at the end of January 2014,” Mr Smith said. “My wife Joyce and I were of two minds at that point in time; we hoped that the cancer had been removed by the surgery but everyone was saying that this disease is deadly and that it was going to get me anyway.”
Despite the chemotherapy – which Mr Smith described as “absolutely horrible” – his worst fears were confirmed when a follow-up CT scan in May 2015 discovered two growing tumours in the same vicinity of his left lung.
At that point, oncologists at Sir Charles Gardiner suggested Mr Smith try its new CyberKnife treatment, introduced in April 2014 and the only machine of its kind in Australia.
“What they do is inject you with a dye to locate the position and size of the tumours and then they input that back into a computer program and that controls a big robotic arm,” Mr Smith said.
“The robotic arm is able to target those tumours specifically with up to four times the density of radiation you would receive in conventional radiation therapy.”
Since completing the CyberKnife treatment a year ago, which carries none of the debilitating symptoms of chemotherapy, Mr Smith’s tumours have not grown and he is hopeful that the disease has been stopped in its tracks.
“The best-case scenario is that the radiation has killed off the tumours and my body will now just gradually dispose of them,” he said.