THOSE who meet Ballarat’s Don Watson, even those who known him best, say he is so fit and healthy looking. So upbeat.
They often grapple with the fact his body has become a ticking time bomb. Doctors have given him a 50 per cent chance of two years to live, mostly because that is the longest anyone has latest on the new combi drug he is taking. The drugs appear to be working but Don must wait to learn whether this has slowed the melanoma growing on his brain.
This has been Don’s battle since January last year when he fell ill while visiting his son in Echuca. He is 58 years old.
“Melanoma’s like a light switch. It can remain dormant for so long and then suddenly switches on and starts attacking. The drugs I’m on now, I’m trying to put the switch back to off and survive,” Don said. “There was a spot on my back which was removed years ago. Doctors took a large margin out, the size of a tennis ball. Now they’re finding in trials that it’s not so much the origin, it gets in your bloodstream.”
Don will walk the Tan in Melbourne on Sunday for the Melanoma March, raising awareness for an often misunderstood cancer.
There is not much Don can recall about his diagnosis. The cancerous growth wiped his memory. There are flashes: being in air ambulance, intensive care. His sister-in-law took care of him after brain surgery but Don did not realise this was because he had a high risk of seizure. Or, that he had dragged his leg when he walked.
Post-surgery radiation eliminated a few spots on his brain. He had the all-clear before periodic checks revealed a tumor on his chest then, later, regrowth on his brain and one on his thigh. On Christmas Eve, his oncologist rang from the Austin with news the cancer on Don’s brain was inoperable.
Don chooses to remain positive. He educates himself on melanoma and advances in treatment. He is surrounded by close family, friends and in constant contact with his sons. He is travelling to Vietnam with friends in May, then to northern Australia.
“We need to get people understanding melanoma...I didn’t think anything like this could happen to me,” Don said. “I had people saying after my surgery they had thought something was wrong in times when I would usually laugh but would only say hello. Sometimes, it’s up to family and friends to take you by the hand and get you checked out.”
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