I played international tennis until September 27, 2009, when my dream to become a professional tennis player was shattered. I was playing an interclub match when I broken my right arm and I hadn’t even hit the ball. I’ve never had an injury that I can remember. Everyone watching my game on that day thought that it was only a shoulder dislocation. My parent took me to the Emergency clinic to have a check up. When the Doctor ordered an x-ray it appeared that I broke my right humerus, but he sent me to the hospital. He said that he can’t do anything in his clinic. I remember my mother questioned the doctor: “Why a hospital? It’s only a broken bone. You can put a cast on it.” But the doctor explained to her that it needed further investigation, why the bone broke by just lifting my arm.
My parent decided that I would take an ambulance ride because I was in agony. That was cool because the paramedic was giving me a laughing gas to help to ease the pain. Upon my arrival in the Emergency department at Middlemore hospital, a Bone Specialist check me and ran a blood test. He look at the x-ray and both were negative, so he said he would refer me to Dr. French and Dr. Flint, Bone Tumor specialists. I could see my mother’s face turn to sadness and worry. I am the only child and I know I am her world. Even while I was in agony I give her assurance that I was fine and it was nothing serious.
I was admitted to the Middlemore Hospital to have more tests (MRI, CT Scan), but there was no sign of cancer growing. My doctor order a bone scan and the bone scan come back negative. Lucky I have a very stubborn doctor. He performed an operation on my broken arm and got a little piece of my bone and send it to the lab for a biopsy. On October 9 2008, a phone call from Dr. Flint confirmed the result that it was high grade osteosarcoma. My first thought that was for my parents, especially my mother, because I knew my mom would not handle it well. Lucky in our country we have a lot of support, but still my mother was not handling it very well. She cried 2 days continuously until I told her “even if she flooded the whole country by her tears it doesn’t change the result: I have cancer.” I gave her an ultimatum: either to walk with me or kill herself. I told her the match is not over yet, yes I lost the first set, but I will fight to win.
Doctor French referred me to the Auckland Hospital Oncology Department. I meet Dr. Porter, an oncology consultant. He told me the plan; he said that I would have 4 cycles of chemo first in order to save my arm. November 1, 2008, was my first cycle of chemo treatment, Cysplatin and Doxorubycin. I remember I was teasing the nurse who treated me when he give me the steroid drug that if I was playing a tennis match and I will be banned for a year for taking the substance. She laughed at me. It was boring for the whole day because all I could do was lay in the bed and go in the toilet. I was watching the clock ticking and couldn’t wait until 5pm because I was allowed to go home. I went home and was happy that I did not feel sick, but 9pm struck and I was sick as a dog. My mother rang the 24 hours hospital help seeking for assistance. The nurse told her to take me back to the hospital.
I lost 14 kilos in one week. I was joking with my oncology registrar, Karen, that chemo is a very good diet. She laughed at me. I am very lucky because all my doctors and nurses are wonderful. I remember during my 2nd cycle of chemo that I give Karen a fright. Because I was very sick in my first cycle of chemo, Dr Porter change the anti-nausea treatment he order to give me a 24 hours automatic nausea release treatment. When Karen came to visit me the next day at 8am I was still asleep. So she left me alone and told my mother she would be back at 11 to talk to me, but when she came back I was still sleeping. She woke me up but I could not manage to stay awake for long. She jumped very quickly and ordered the nurse to remove the automatic release nausea treatment. Karen knew that was not the Bryall that she knows, because at that time she was the one who was doing all the talking. Mostly when they come to my room I am always making jokes to them. I worried her so much that she visited me 3 times on that day. My nurses came and checked me every hour. I was very lucky to have a wonderful team that looked after me. After 4 cyles of chemo, I finished the CT scan and MRI showed that the cancer did not shrink. The good news was I responded to the treatment well because the broken bone was healing, but it was not enough to save my arm. My Doctor give me 2 options: (1) keep my arm but 50% chances the cancer will come back. (2) Amputate my arm and 95% chance the cancer is cured. To me I only have one option, I wanted to live longer. So on February 4, 2009, Dr. Flint amputated my arm. Six weeks later I had another 3 cycle of chemo. Being an athlete for my whole life helped me to recovered quickly.
Next year I will be going back to University which I did last year before Cancer. I will continue to study Psychology to become a counselor. I want to help both cancer patient and survivors. My life now is wonderful, I open another door which is close before, I become a face of our Daffodil Day appeal to raise money for the Cancer Society. I also do inspirational speaking for the Canteen (Cancer for Teenagers) to raise money. I refuse to dwell on what might have been and instead have focused on what I have to do to adapt to life as an amputee and cancer survivor.
Since the operation, I have been learning to write with my left hand, and working hard at mastering the everyday tasks that are second nature for those with two hands. It has been tough. For three months, I’ve been practicing my writing every day. The fact I don’t have my right arm to keep a grip on the paper makes it especially difficult, getting dressed is a lot harder than it used to be. Before I go out I have to have my clothes prepared. It takes ages to open a drawer because we normally need two arms to do that. I’m adapting though, and I’m doing totally fine.
I consider myself lucky that I broke my bone because if I hadn’t found out then, the cancer would have spread to my internal organs. Now on my way to recovery, I have rekindled my passion for competitive sport. As a child I use to swim.. Now I been selected as an xcellerate swimmer paralympian athlete in New Zealand. I swim one and a half hour 7 times a week. I started competing last November, and my aim is to compete in Paralympic 2012. My ordeal has taught me to value every day. “I believe you should live your life to the fullest – you never know what is around the corner.”
Osteosarcom at the Proximal Humerus
Date of Diagnosis: October 9, 2009
Age at Diagnosis: 19
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Surgeon: Dr. Flint and Dr. Gary French
Oncologist: Dr. David Porter / Dr. Karen Amies