In early November 2013, Sydney businessman Martin Chimes completed his novel Into the Lion’s Den. It had been an all-consuming undertaking and he felt a sense of relief mixed with excitement. Little did he realise that on this same day, he’d enter his very own personal lion’s den, a battle with an aggressive, deadly cancer. He writes for Debrief Daily about his incredible life-affirming journey.
Having grown up in South Africa, at least I had a familiarity with these dangerous, beautiful creatures but Mesothelioma is a malignant species of beast as terrifying as it is unfamiliar. Meso… what!?
Years of writing, thinking, creating, dreaming and reminiscing have yielded my first novel. The book is finished and I’m elated – but also in denial. The writing has been a welcome distraction these past few days as I await the biopsy test results from my lung. I’ve been doing all the writing but I’ve turned a blind eye to the writing on the wall – the two litres of bloody fluid drawn from my left lung at St Vincent’s Hospital two days ago, I reassure myself, must be explainable, innocuous, benign; anything but cancer.
We receive word from Dr Stone, a brief missive: “The pathology has, regrettably, shown the presence of malignant pleural mesothelioma. It’s a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.”
Nothing prepares you for the shock of that moment. My beautiful wife, Sara, hugs me and holds me tight. Although her own pain is almost insupportable, her first instinct is to support me, and she does, heroically, bearing her burden and mine, from that first awful moment and every step of the way of the long road ahead.
All my life I have been a health and fitness nut. Some might say, I was not just strong, I was invincible - in my own mind at least. So how can it be true that I am now diagnosed with a terminal illness with just 4 to 10 months left to live. It is as if death is lurking just around the corner, so close that I may as well lie down and wait for its arrival, for it will all soon be over.
Yet I have never walked away from a challenge in the past and the simple act of throwing in the towel is one that I have failed to master. It won’t be the first time I’ve surprised everyone. And while it will be me in the ring, I know I’ll have an army of family, friends and doctors in my corner who will do everything to ensure I came out on top of this bout.
Dr Stone offers us a glimmer of hope by proposing a radical tri-modal treatment of chemotherapy, intensive surgery and radiotherapy. There are three stages to this race then; it is a rather gruesome kind of triathlon, and like every other race it will be won only in one way, by moving ever forward, one foot in front of the other, no matter what, until I cross the finish line. Mentally and physically I will be tested like never before and life and death are the stakes.
Not everyone is as fortunate as me. My physical condition qualifies me for this uncommon and dangerous triple-shot therapy that will see me lose my left lung, pleura, diaphragm, thoracic tissue and the membranous structures surrounding my heart. But the sobering reality when all the bravado fades away is that, going on statistics, all I’m doing is buying a little extra time. Even after this treatment program, the 2-year survival rate is less than 5 in every 100.
Desperate to save me, Sara begins researching any and all alternative treatments that might help to prolong my life. She scours the net, poring over every medical resource she can find.
She discovers the work of a gifted Israeli doctor, Michael Har-Noy, and his company Immunocare, who are pioneering an experimental treatment that utilises immunotherapy drugs to harness the power of the immune system itself. It is at the forefront of cancer research and if successful will revolutionise the way this most dreaded of diseases is handled. If.
Now there’s another stage to this already long race. I undergo all four treatments one after the other, as if a triathlon were not gruelling enough.
By the time the immunotherapy is over, I have endured 19 months of continuous treatment and believe myself to be free of disease. I feel lucky to be alive. I have witnessed others, much younger than me, succumb to cures which for them proved to be more deadly than the disease. Where so many have fought their final bout and failed, despite all their valour and the love and support of those around them, somehow I have prevailed.