Floreat man faces own mortality after cancer diagnosis

Geoff Parnell was diagnosed with a rare cancer after doctors caught it through a routine procedure.
Geoff Parnell was diagnosed with a rare cancer after doctors caught it through a routine procedure.

IN May last year, Geoff Parnell received news that forced him to face his own mortality.

The former Subiaco Business Association (now Western Suburbs Business Association) president and Hames Sharley architect was given two weeks to clear his diary for the next six months at least.

The Floreat man was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer following a regular five-yearly check up with his Subiaco doctor.

As well as the routine tests, the doctor suggested the 65-year-old have a colonoscopy and endoscopy but these tests would have to wait until Mr Parnell and his wife Yvonne returned from an overseas holiday.

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“They don’t normally do the endoscopy but my GP asked if I suffered from heartburn and indigestion, which I did,” he said.

“Three days after I got back I had both tests. The doctor thought I had oesophageal cancer. It was a real shock considering all the other tests were good.

“Within a week it was confirmed and they needed to operate. I had no symptoms and that’s one of the problems with this type of cancer.”

Mr Parnell was told to cancel everything for the next six months to prepare for the keyhole surgery at Fiona Stanley Hospital.

“I stepped down from the SBA (now WSBA) and took a leave of absence from a number of boards,” he said.

“Within a week I had a clear diary,” he said.

The 10-hour surgery puts more stress on the body and organs than having an open-heart transplant.

It involves taking away half the stomach and cutting out part of the oesophagus plagued by cancer and stapling the healthy part of the oesophagus to the stomach.

The operation has a high mortality rate because it involves collapsing a lung.

“I went through those thoughts of reassessing what I’ve done in my life,” Mr Parnell said.

“It does make you think about what’s important in life.”

Following the surgery in June last year, Mr Parnell lost 15kg in three weeks because he could only eat baby food.

While he is back to solid foods now, beer is off the menu along with acidic and gassy foods like tomato and broccoli.

This meant the Parnell’s threw a couple of dinner parties in the lead up to the surgery to get through their wine cellar.

“Our friends appreciated that,” Mrs Parnell said.

Since the diagnosis, the Parnell’s have implored their friends to get an endoscopy and five out of the 20 who have, were found to have Barrett’s Oesophagus that can lead to oesophageal cancer.

Mr Parnell is back on a few boards now but is “looking for different challenges” these days.