Consumer Perspective: Brain Cancer

Matthew Mallett

I consider myself very lucky at this point in my life, as well as when I was first diagnosed with my low-grade oligoastrocytoma. Sounds a bit strange, I know. I figured I had had a great start to life and family upbringing, had made it to my late 30s, travelled and worked hard. It is fair to say I have met most of my goals in life and I am very thankful for that.

In mid-2007, a CT scan was taken due to headaches. I was out the door and on my way back to work when a staff member chased me down as I left the hospital. Suffice to say, it wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. Whilst I don’t recall the exact date, the whole process of discovery sits in my mind like it was yesterday.

Following the scan was an initial biopsy, a couple of resulting seizures, ongoing scans and follow-up consultations. In more recent times there has been an awake craniotomy, medicines that test mind and body, periods of no driving, work restrictions, relationship pressures and financial strains.

I have learned to not be too concerned with what lies is what it is. Now I remain focused on the here and now. I stay true to myself, family & friends. I savour the little things in life; a couple of dogs fill this void really well...for me! I’ve been fortunate to have gravitated into a career that is a passion and am so glad that through all this medical stuff, I still remember how to use a camera. Initially I struggled, as modern cameras have many controls. Luckily I work with the old manual method.

Through my photography of scenic landscapes, my thoughts at the time are shared with those that can’t be with me as I capture images, experience the cold or the warm water, wonderful sunrises, sunsets, our Milky Way and some amazing animals. I find photography a fantastic release from what real life consists of. I have the chance to exit, for a moment, the reality of what lies ahead, to sit under the stars on a cool night and think just how complex we humans are. I find it very grounding.

So, to everyone out there, set goals to do something that pushes the boundary. You’ve done it before, you can do it again. It could be painting, drawing, photography, music. It doesn’t matter, whatever makes you feel good.

We are always going to have that extra challenge in life. For myself, I try to accept them and move on. Don’t get me wrong, the battle is real and very challenging some days. I used to be able to cope with a full day’s work and much more in my younger days. With age and the tumour situation, working for five hours with people drains me to the point where on the second day after photographing an event I still feel exhausted, despite enjoying the job at the time.

I’d like to thank all the nursing staff for encouraging and supporting me, and I’m sure, many others, as we face our challenges head on - Pardon the pun!

This article is based on the author's notes for a talk given at Cabrini Health in 2019. Notes have been edited for clarity.