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Friday, December 2, 2011

A very special Christmas card: dear McGowrans

The world is badly in need of 'good news' stories. Sadly, they rarely make the headlines. Stories like this, though, sometimes do get their own moment in the sun.

Glenn McGowran
  Let me go back a little. It would have been right at the end of 2009, I think. It was one of those rare occasions that I was listening to a cricket test match being broadcast on ABC Radio. Rare, i.e., in the sense that I would usually be watching such a match on TV rather than have the radio on instead.

  This was only days after I'd been operated on for a highly malignant glioblastoma multiforme brain tumour. The ABC was running a competition about interesting local cricketing stories, when this one came up.

  You can (and should!) read it more fully and better described here, but the gist of it as I heard it on the radio was this. The brother of a young cricketer called Glenn McGowran had told the story of how Glenn, battling a malignant brain tumour of a different type to mine still played his cricket, even when he was having seizures.

  If he felt a seizure coming on while batting, the best sporting traditions of this game would cut in. The match would just stop for a few minutes, and then he'd come back out and resume his innings. Given the effects of a focal seizure, it takes guts, and sporting friend and foe alike respected that, as he expected no favours when the game resumed. When he was fielding, he just continued playing if a seizure was hanging around.

  In précis form like this, it doesn't seem as great as it is, but it was truly inspirational. Not surprisingly, it won the story competition. It wouldn't have mattered if it hadn't. The story was the thing that counted. It's told better than I can in other stories here and here.

  If anything happens by chance, then chance dictated that I would meet up with his brother Paul, the one who'd sent his story to the ABC. It wasn't a physical meeting, but a brief Twitter exchange only a few weeks ago. It established that instantaneous bond between people who share a life-and-death family experience.

  That's not quite the centrepiece of my story. Malignant brain tumours are relentless bastards - there are few other words for them, and they've been called worse. By me as well as other people. The problem rarely goes away altogether. Glenn's been battling this since 2006. There are periods of imminent danger and those of remission.

  The highest grades of tumours can't be eradicated entirely, as a rule. They are a Sword of Damocles that hangs over the lives of those who have them, and just as importantly, over their close families.

  Sometimes I think the pain of those close to a person with a very serious medical problem is placed on the periphery, but it's also at the centre of their lives as well. It's especially poignant when the person is young: a child or young mother or father, or one where their children really need them and where their greatest wish is to see their children safely into adulthood.

  Glenn's going to be a daddy in a few months. Imagine if you will the stress that he and his family felt when the next brain scan (MRI) was due a few weeks ago. Seeing what's below, it would be impossible not to appreciate and share the joy with them all of knowing that a good period of grace is ahead, and perhaps one allowing enough time to access the medication that will deal with the tumour once and for all.

  You need more words than that? I don't see why. That symbol at the end, if you don't know, stands for a wide smile. :D

  Who needs more? Merry Christmas, McGowran clan.

(NOTE: The photos have been shamelessly plundered from the newspaper articles I've referenced above. I thank them.)


  1. :D
    How wonderful and heartening
    Go, Glenn and Denis!!!


  2. Denis, I was surprised to stumble across your blog today, after, Googling my name, as I sporadically do, mainly to see how much information ex-girlfriends or potential employers can glean about me online. Now that I have added your blog to my favourites, I can keep you updated on my progress. The blog causes a heavy feeling in my chest because I can relate too much of what you experience and it saddens me to know others also experience the worst parts of my life.) The title of your blog My Unwelcome Stranger is perfect. Although after six years of managing my tumour it’s not such a stranger anymore, rather a serial pest not dissimilar to a photo-bomber, which rears its ugly head the moment I relax and start to enjoy any particular moment in my life. The pest always brings me back to the thought of why bother doing anything for the future, a future that most likely will never eventuate. Then I remember the prognosis of brain cancer is not the end of the future, Sure I was told brain cancer has a 100% mortality rate, which also happens to be the prognosis given to everyone on the day they are born because life too has a 100% mortality rate. So I figure that as long as you’re living, you can’t be dead. So I choose to keep on living, and I’m pleased to share with you the news of the early and safe arrival of Matthew Charlie McGowran, born 22nd March 2012 weighing in at 3002g or 6lb 10oz. He is a perfect little boy and a heart-warming and addition to our family. Although now I must now experience the increased anxiety of waiting for my latest MRI Results, which I had my MRI yesterday 7 May. Also my most recent surgery 2 June 2011 resulted in optic nerve damage causing blindness on my left side, so I’ve been unable to drive now for almost a year. I continued to play cricket despite the vision loss, after playing much of the season in the lower grades I was precluded from selection for the finals due to concerns about the potential danger of me being hit by the ball. The side went on to win the premiership, so I was disappointed not to be a participating member of the team. I’m not sure where the decision by the club to not select me will leave me next season, hopefully I will be selected for a few games because I have played 196 games over many years and would like to get to 200 games next season. Sorry for the long post.. hopefully there are not too many spelling errors, my vision and weakness in my left hand has made it much harder to type and pickup errors.

    1. Glenn: very glad your response to the piece was positive. I will reply in more detail tomorrow as I have to go to bed soon - earlier than for years for one reason or another. I just wanted you to know that your comment has been read and taken in, and I'm delighted to make your acquaintance and happy with the good parts of the news in your comment. The row is a difficult one to hoe.

      More tomorrow!

    2. Glenn: do please keep me/us updated with your progress. You can also keep your ex-girlfriends and employers updated at the same time, so it's the trifecta!

      Funny you should say that about my title, because I also feel that 'stranger' doesn't now describe what I've called 'Brian' – not that 'Brian' fairly describes a thing in your head composed of your own DNA, the sole purpose of which is to reproduce its cells till it kills its host. Not much intelligence in that. If I should now call it My Unwelcome Guest, I have to admit I feel no inclination to be an obliging host. Anyway… a rose by any name….

      You are also quite right when you talk of the 100% mortality rate for all humanity, and I think this observation comes to you and me and others with difficult cancers more often than it does for people living out their lives where this is nothing but a small blip on the radar of consciousness [as it should be, most of the time.]

      It's wonderful to see you and the family with the pleasure of the new baby and I can well understand the heartache that goes along with it should things go wrong for you in coming weeks and months. The stress of waiting for your MRI results [3 weeks?] will be intense; especially not knowing what to expect. My head is aching sharply now right in the tumour area just imagining it.

      When we did MRIs more or less regularly, we didn't have that wait. I had the MRI done; an hour later we'd pick up the images, open them, read the report to our GP if it were there with them, and do our own analysis. Tracey is so skilled from long experience of these images in another context that she is as good as any GP in interpreting them. So we didn't have that delay. I can only hope your waiting time is as brief as possible. No matter what the news, it's a relief to know what's ahead and not be in total ignorance.

      It's a great pity about the optic nerve damage. I know well how you love your cricket and are a much respected player. Unfortunately, long since I coached hockey teams, things have changed with insurance and potential litigation, and even an assurance by you that you take full responsibility won't be enough from a legal point of view to protect the club should you get injured, but I hope they can include you and have the four games recognised. I am guessing that token participation for 4 games won't sit well with you, but it may turn out to be the only way.

      Don't apologise for the long post or I will have to apologise for the long reply, and we both have left-hand typing issues. As it happens, your typing was faultless. It's funny that the less able-bodied we get in these matters, the more determined we are to do them right!

      There are so many more things to say - about wondering if all the effort of the discipline involved is going to be worth it, e.g., - but I've said enough.

      There are wonderful blog respondents - caring, sensitive, warm, honest, highly intelligent people who often know much more than I and who open windows on what I write about aspects that I would never see through my own often myopic lens. Can I suggest, as you are following the blog, that when the subject is the things we share in going through this process, you regard any of their comments as directed as much towards you as to me?

      I've noted your email address - - and will let you know that way I've responded, just in case you don't return to this part of the blog otherwise. Don't be surprised if you get a few unsolicited but welcome, I'm sure, messages of support via email from some of the people I've described above. Besides, they may want baby photos…. :)


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