The East Auckland resident started having “dizzy turns” in 2010 and his wife Suzana noticed he was dragging his leg when he walked. Over the past ten years, Michael’s optimism and generous spirit has seen him through some tough times, and he’s grateful for each new day.
Following a visit to his GP Dr Devarajah, Michael was referred to Auckland DHB for a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. “It was all really speedy, but the news wasn’t good,” says Michael.
The scan revealed a large tumour in Michael’s brain and he was immediately seen by Auckland DHB Neurosurgeon Mr Edward Mee. Michael had “burr hole” surgery in early 2011, drilling a small hole into his skull for a biopsy. “The results came back as malignant. It was nerve-racking, but I was always kept informed,” says Michael, who was put under the care of Auckland DHB Radiation Oncologist Dr Anthony Falkov.
Auckland DHB’s Regional Cancer Centre (Cancer and Blood Services) treats all patients in the Northern Region, north of Mercer, and is the only public provider of radiation therapy (radiotherapy) in the region.
“The tumour was an oligodendroglioma, which meant it was growing on the nerves. It couldn’t be removed and was changing from grade 3 to grade 4, so Dr Falkov decided to do radiation and chemo together.”
Michael had a 30-day cycle of radiotherapy and two rounds of oral chemotherapy, and met with Dr Falkov weekly as an outpatient. “The treatment always felt so personalised. It was a learning process but Dr Falkov was really good at explaining everything.”
A follow-up scan showed Michael’s tumour had shrunk by 70 per cent. “Everyone was amazed at the reduction. There was still 30 per cent in there, but eight years later, I’m still here and living one day at a time.”
Michael counts himself lucky to be in New Zealand, where he says the expertise is the “best in the world”. Now four years in remission, he remains closely monitored by Dr Falkov and Auckland DHB’s Cancer and Blood Services team, having six-monthly scans to check the tumour’s growth.
Through its Regional Cancer Centre, Auckland DHB provides cancer care, treatment and support for 1.5 million people in greater Auckland. The Auckland Health Foundation launched in November 2018 to help Auckland DHB patients achieve better health outcomes, including everyone affected by cancer.
While he suffered headaches, short-term memory loss and many stressful times, the hardest part for Michael was being told he couldn’t drive for three years.
Wife Suzana says driving is Michael’s passion: “Being told he couldn’t drive was definitely the biggest blow for Michael, but the DHB team was great at keeping him motivated and recommended a gym programme to keep him active.”
Michael is happily behind the wheel again and is a volunteer driver for the Cancer Society – taking patients to their medical appointments. “I used the service during my treatment, so I’m ‘paying it forward’ in my own way,” he says.
Since his journey with Auckland DHB’s Cancer and Blood Services began, Michael is grateful to have celebrated many milestones, including his 25th wedding anniversary and his son’s marriage. “I’ve always stayed positive and felt I would get through it. I’ve never asked how long I’ve got; I’ve relied on my optimism, the continued support of family and friends, and my spirituality; and Dr Falkov has always been so reassuring. Dr Falkov’s personal touch has made all the difference; he is amazing and he has given me a second life.
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