Becoming a supporter of the PA Research Foundation was an easy decision for RAAF veteran Nick Bricknell after the PA Hospital helped save his life from pharyngeal cancer.
Sadly, for Nick, cancer has impacted his family more than most. His mother passed away in 2005 as a result of a melanoma that had metastasized to her liver and other organs, while he was posted overseas. His father also passed from prostate cancer in 2015, after beating it 10 years earlier, while a much loved uncle also passed in 2020 from stomach cancer.
Nick Bricknell during his treatment.
Upon completing 30 years of service in the Air Force, Nick pursued new interests which included studying abroad in France and Canada in 2013 and part of 2014. He would return home to Brisbane in early 2014 to have some troubling symptoms investigated, a decision which would lead to his cancer diagnosis and ultimately save his life.
“In early 2014, I decided to return to Brisbane as I was experiencing headaches and pain as if an insect was inside my ear gnawing away,” Nick said.
“On my return my GP sent me to an audiologist to check my ears and hearing. She concluded that my ears and hearing were fine but one of the tests was affected by some sort of blockage.
“In March of that year, my GP referred me to an ENT (Ear Nose and Throat) surgeon who discovered that two thirds of my tongue was a Squamous Cell Carcinoma which he said was an inoperable, terminal condition. He also said that I should finalise my affairs in anticipation of dying within two to three months.”
By chance, Nick’s sibling worked within the health system and was able to provide him some advice about what his next steps would be in terms of treatment.
“My little brother, a hospital administrator, explained I would be referred to the Head and Neck Cancer Clinic at the PA Hospital for further testing,” Nick said.
Nick with his grand-niece Keitha.
“After I met a series of specialists and allied health personnel, I was told by the clinic’s head, Professor Sandro Porceddu, that my situation might not be as a bleak as previously advised. Depending on whether my cancer was a result of smoking or HPV16, the latter being treatable with some success with radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
“They also told me that although the cancer had spread to lymph nodes in my neck, it had not yet reached any organs.”
“Happily for me, HPV16 was found to be the cause. Professor Porceddu and Dr Margie McGrath supervised my radiation and chemotherapy (Cisplaten) treatments over the following three months. They were fantastic oncologists and wonderful people.”
Reassured to know he could keep his cancer at bay and that it had not spread further than his lymph nodes, Nick was also thankful for the support of family and friends for being by his side through his cancer treatment.
“The radiation treatment required me to wear a mask to bolt my head to the scanning equipment, so it didn’t move. An eventual side-effect was damage to my throat which led to me being fed liquids through a nose tube and which caused me to lose 25 kg,” he said.
“The chemotherapy and associated courses of painkillers left me with hallucinations and fuzziness, and what I was told later, was ‘chemo brain’. I lost my ability to speak properly. My whiskers became patchy in the areas of radiation but there was no other hair loss.
“During my treatment, I was mainly an outpatient and my daughter, my two brothers, my sister and my ex-wife travelled to Brisbane to help my father care for me for between two and four weeks at a time on a roster for around four months which I really appreciated. I was very fortunate to have a strong loving family to help pull me through a very dark time in my life and I am forever grateful.”
Nick with his ex-wife Reggy, who flew over from Jakarta when she learned he was battling cancer.
In November of that year Nick received the encouraging news from Professor Porceddu that his pharyngeal cancer had been treated successfully. The Sunnybank Hills resident, who would visit the PA every year for reviews until 2019, said although his treatment left him with internal scarring, he saw his regular donations to the PA Research Foundation as his way of saying thank you for the care he was given.
“Donating to the PA is my way of ‘paying it forward’ in appreciation of the help Sandro and Margie and their team gave me and also, in the hope that my donations, in tandem with those of others, can help fund research into better treatment and maybe, one day, cures,” Nick said.
Donate to support cancer research at the PA Hospital here.