Blood Cancer Awareness Month – Drew observes hospital life


Early in 2020, Drew was enjoying a holiday in Tuscany, Italy when he began to notice some unusual symptoms. Even in the Italian summer, Drew felt that he was sweating more than normal, and he had lost his taste for some of the things he usually enjoyed, such as red wine – ‘which was very unfortunate, given I was in Tuscany!’ he says. He was also feeling excessively tired and having trouble digesting food. On his return to Australia, Drew immediately arranged an appointment with his doctor and underwent a colonoscopy. It was this procedure that detected some abnormalities that concerned Drew’s doctor and he was referred for further tests.

The outcome of these tests was a diagnosis of Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, an aggressive type of blood cancer. Just seven days after this diagnosis, Drew started treatment under the guidance of Epworth haematologist, Professor Miles Prince AM.

Now retired, Drew’s working life spanned several decades as an executive in broadcast and production television, both commercial and with Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC. During appointments and hospital admissions for blood cancer treatment, Drew observed surprising similarities between the industry he had worked in and the hospital and practice teams responsible for his care.

Without wanting to diminish the importance of the latter and their dedication to ‘saving lives’ through this comparison, Drew noted that these two work groups shared commonalities, such as a pursuit of perfection and excellence, the development of effective teams and skilled staff, and harnessing or developing technologies for better outcomes.

After his original diagnosis, Drew spent several months undergoing treatment at Epworth Freemasons through the long days of the COVID pandemic. Despite visitor restrictions, Drew found himself feeling grateful for the activity around him in a busy hospital, while others were experiencing enforced lockdowns. He got to know staff well and enjoyed the conversations he would have with them each day.

The long stay also gave Drew an appreciation for the skills and seamless teamwork of hospital staff. Drawing another comparison to his beloved film industry, he describes Epworth Freemasons Oncology Nurse Unit Manager, Leslie Bell as ‘the equivalence of airline pilot or in film parlance, First Assistant Director!’

Treatment for Drew’s lymphoma has included chemotherapy and immunotherapies, some of them as clinical trials. He is optimistic about the outcome of treatments and was relieved when his latest hospital admission – a precautionary investigation of some stomach pain – turned out to be short and sweet.

Interviewed ahead of Blood Cancer Awareness Month in September, Drew spoke about his amazement at the new treatments for blood and other cancers that are emerging, and advances in treatments that use the patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer. He is fascinated and reassured by these medical and scientific developments, but for Drew, it’s the people who have been involved in his care that have earned his utmost respect and awe.

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