The Courier-Mail - QWeekend

Ordinary People

Orthopaedi­c registrar, 29, Caloundra

- Interview ELISSA LAWRENCE

When I was 22 I was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I’m in remission now but my oncologist says it will come back at some point and people ask me if that eats away at me. But you don’t walk around with an umbrella waiting for it to rain. It could come back in one year, 10 years or 50 years. Life is fragile and can change so quickly but you can’t be worried about what’s going to happen in the future.

From a young age, I wanted to be an engineer. I grew up on a farm near Wallumbill­a, five hours west of Brisbane, near Roma. It’s where my parents (Colin, 72, a cattle farmer and Shawnie, 59, a high school maths and science teacher) still live.

I was good at maths and science and I was always told I would be a good engineer so it was imprinted on my brain that’s what I should do. After primary school at Wallumbill­a State School, I boarded at Toowoomba Grammar. I did a Bachelor of Engineerin­g (with a masters in mechanical engineerin­g) at the University of Queensland. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was going to so in early 2012, my final year of engineerin­g, I decided I wanted to do medicine. I finished my engineerin­g degree and was accepted to start medicine in 2013. During the routine blood tests you do to work in the health industry they found a few abnormalit­ies. I found out I had cancer on the Friday of my (engineerin­g) graduation. I was at the Regatta Hotel having lunch with my parents before the ceremony. No one in my family has had any type of cancer. My treatment started on December, 31 (2012). You can’t really defer studying medicine so I could either give up the spot or try and make it work.

My haematolog­ist, Dr James Morton, was supportive of making everything fit in. It started off with weekly chemothera­py … there were two different treatment protocols on alternatin­g weeks. Then we started doing them both at the same time, so double the treatment but fortnightl­y on a Friday. This way, I could be sick over the weekend and go to med school on Monday. I had this treatment for six months and then monthly chemo for two years. I also had a stem cell harvest and surgery to remove a lump. I graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from UQ in 2016 and now I’m a training registrar at Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

It’s pretty unique to be a doctor who has had so much experience of being a patient. It can only make you a better doctor. Most of my time is spent at work – upwards of 70 hours a week – and sport is meditative for me, to pound away on the pushbike for a few hours. I do about 15 hours of sport a week. I represente­d Australia in triathlon (25-30 age group) in 2019 at the World Championsh­ips in Switzerlan­d. I’m also president of the Sunshine Coast Junior Doctors Society and a lecturer for Griffith University in the School of Medicine in orthopaedi­cs.

In 2019, I completed a two-year Masters in Traumatolo­gy at University of Newcastle and won a 2020 UQ Distinguis­hed Young Alumni Award. This year I am planning to marry my fiancee (physiother­apist Samantha Hows, 29). My experience did change me. I always worked hard but now I feel this unquenchab­le thirst for success and motivation to do things, to keep moving forward and make improvemen­ts. It makes you appreciate everything you have.

It’s pretty unique to be a doctor who has had so much experience of being a

patient

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