1,115km away from Brisbane, in Airlie Beach, there is a beloved community member who also happens to champion the cause of Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH).
Nate Fleming, known as ‘Mr Whitsundays’ for his love and promotion of the area, has raised close to $8000 for the PAH, alongside his supportive employers in Airlie Beach Ocean Rafting Tours, by selling merchandise for the PA Foundation, due to his gratitude for his care and treatment when he was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma.
Nate discovered his cancer, which began as a small lump in his leg thanks to a physio who he was seeing after dislocating his shoulder who told him something wasn’t right. But Nate also knew within himself something wasn’t right and it was the physio’s confirmation which made him seek help and eventually be diagnosed.
Nate his partner Benny and their dog Roofus.
To save his life from the aggressive cancer doctors at the PA had to replace his femur bone with a bionic metal rod in a pioneering surgical procedure. Nate also underwent chemotherapy as part of his treatment to ensure the cancer was eradicated from his body.
“I had chemo for three months and they stopped it about two weeks before my surgery. The surgery took about eight hours to install the leg, and the operation was the first one in Australia. It was a new concept,” Nate said.
“My femur had to go, it was gone, eaten away and the tumor was quite large and was hanging outside of the bone. The tumor was attached to the quad muscle so that was removed as well.
“The original plan was that they were going to put a donor bone into my shin, which is a much more common procedure. But a few weeks into my chemo Dr Summersville found new technology and the PA got behind it and said, “yeah let’s get it”.
“It was custom made piece that would replace my femur. It was 3D printed in Germany and it was sent over via plane. It ended up taking eight hours to install.
During his treatment Nate started a Facebook page called Nate’s Trek to keep family and friends updated and such was the level of concern the page grew to over 900 members. The page became a vital form of communication to allay worries as Nate’s surgery went past the expected operation time and as he recovered.
“I run into people at work events and that kind of thing and see people I haven’t spoken to in a few years, and they tell me that they watched the page and the story the whole way and said that where I am today is really cool, given what I’ve been through,” he said.
“It's really nice when that happens, because the main purpose was to educate people about this really rare cancer.”
Having also lost his father to cancer, Nate remains passionate about raising funds for research and to help support other cancer patients. Currently considered cancer free, Nate now only travels to Brisbane for check-ups at the PA but says the hospital and what it did for him is regularly on his mind.
“The PA is very close to my heart, I was going to the PA because of something bad in the cancer, but it was good experience for me because it gave me the chance of living,” Nate said.
“The chances of me living weren’t great, and after that there was a real chance of me losing my leg if the rod didn’t fit, so I really didn’t know if I was going to have a leg on the other side of it.
An x-ray of Nate's leg with his femur replaced by a bionic metal rod.
“I just remember waking up and touching my leg and being like “yep it’s still there”. After it all I walked out of there on a high and was super happy, but Fiona from oncology said that it could take a few years for it all to catch up with me mentally, and she was right.
“It was four years on the dot, and I was having a bad day. Maybe once a month on a bad day I just can’t move, and my body stops and resets, and it all comes flooding back to me. I don’t really talk about that much, but I’ve got my partner and our cute dog and that’s enough for me.
“I’m very grateful for the life I have and I’m a very positive person and that’s in many ways thanks to the PA.”
The PA is your place to give to help save the lives of people like Nathan Fleming. You can donate here.