Leigh’s tough journey

Icon Writers / 05 Nov, 2019

From learning to walk again to completing the world’s toughest half-marathon, Leigh shares his story

For Icon Hobart patient Leigh, brain cancer came as a shock. After going through prostate cancer, secondary prostate cancer and four melanomas in the last 15 years, he never thought that losing his balance while running the Point to Pinnacle in 2018 could be a sign of brain cancer.

“I basically had to crawl the last 7kms up the hill. I’d had a few electric shock feelings in my head and thought it could be from cold weather or stress, but a tumour? That’s the last thing I’d think,” Leigh said.

In May 2019, Leigh and his wife Helen were on a cruise in Alaska when they fell sick with the flu. After seeing a doctor on the boat, Leigh was immediately rushed to Kodiak Hospital, Alaska to get an MRI.

“The doctor noticed that I had a droop on one side of my mouth and thought I’d had a stroke. When I went to get an MRI at the hospital, they saw something inside my head and flew us by emergency plane to Seattle for treatment. I had my first brain surgery to remove the tumour just a few days later.”

After heading home to Tasmania, Leigh underwent another surgery and began six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation therapy at Icon Hobart. He says the convenience of receiving cancer treatment so close to home was wonderful for him and his family, particularly after the stress of overseas medical treatment.

“It took us just 12 minutes to get to Icon from home and was a much nicer environment compared to going to the hospital. The staff at Icon have been so transparent and friendly, which isn’t always the case. It’s really helped us get through treatment.”

For Leigh’s wife Helen, his last day of radiation treatment was a joy to witness.

“The staff dressed up in hats and had the disco ball going in the radiation room. We all had a bit of dance, then Leigh went and rang the bell. It was wonderful,” Helen said.

“I’ve run the Point to Pinnacle five times before, but this time it means something different. Now my whole perspective is how I can help other people down the line by raising money for brain cancer research. We quickly met our goal of $5 000, so now we’re looking to raise $10 000!”

“The most difficult part is building my strength and the knowledge that I will be able to get up the mountain. The recovery after my first two brain operations was quick, but having to learn how to walk again after the third has knocked my confidence a bit.”

For Leigh, who is now looking at participating in Phase I clinical trials, the support of groups like Icon and the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation to further cancer research is something that hits close to home.

“It shows you how important research and clinical trials are for people with brain cancer, if I might have to access clinical trials for the treatment I need.”

Despite some uncertainty around what is next, Leigh and Helen remain positive and look forward to spending as much time together as possible surrounded by their biggest supporters – their three children and seven grandkids.

“We couldn’t have done it without our family. Every day, we wake up with hope. This has given us a new perspective on life; we prepare for the worst, but hope for the best,” Helen said.

“Leigh said to me ‘I’m going to get to the other side of this’. Can you imagine going through three brain surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy in just a few months? He’s amazing.”

The Point to Pinnacle is set to take place on November 17, with the half-marathon climbing over 1 200m in elevation to the pinnacle of Mount Wellington. 

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