It should have been one of the happiest days of Ryan Murray’s life. The soon-to-be dad was filled with joy and relief alongside his wife Nikki during her 12-week pregnancy scan.
But that same day, Ryan’s doctor called to tell him he had blood cancer. Jubilation to devastation – in an instant.
Ryan and Nikki had barely been married six months before being forced into the fight of their lives as first-time parents.
“I was 29 years old – young, active and fit from my work for a mining company,” recalls Ryan.
“But I started getting a lot of chest pain and had a sore back that just wouldn’t get better.”
A scan led to the news no–one expects to hear.
“I remember vividly the day I got the results,” said Ryan.
“It was a Friday afternoon and we were on such a high having received the all-clear for Nikki’s scan that day. Then everything was turned upside down.
“I was told I needed to get to Sydney by Monday because I had a 13 centimetre tumour in my chest.”
The initial diagnosis was bleak. Ryan was told he had a carcinoma and “only months to live”.
But a further biopsy revealed Hodgkin lymphoma. Ryan would still require gruelling treatment – but there was hope.
Ryan’s dream of becoming a dad motivated him during his tough blood cancer treatment.
“Our baby was something to look forward to and focus on,” said Ryan.
“One Wednesday, we got home from hospital after a round of chemo then baby Isabella decided she was coming – one month early – on the Friday!”
A blood cancer diagnosis means families from regional and rural Australia must move to the city at short notice to receive lifesaving treatment, often for many months. Ryan and Nikki would spend the first chapter of parenthood in a Leukaemia Foundation apartment while Ryan received life-saving treatment in hospital. Thanks to our supporters, Ryan and his family were spared the financial strain of paying for somewhere to stay near hospital, allowing them to focus on beating his blood cancer.
“We set it up as our home-away-from-home,” said Nikki. “Izzy even learned to crawl there!”
"Having a spare bedroom meant our family could come and look after Isabella. That meant I could actually visit Ryan in hospital because we weren’t allowed to bring Izzy to the ward for fear of infection.”
Ater two rounds of chemotherapy then radiotherapy, Ryan was given the all-clear.
In late 2016 the young family was settling back into a routine at home. At last, life became less about hospitals and more about wheelbarrow rides and feeding the chooks.
But a routine check-up for Ryan just before Christmas dealt another blow – his blood cancer had returned. This time, the same treatment options wouldn’t work.
Doctors told Ryan and Nikki about a new drug called brentuximab that had shown promising results in clinical trials, but was not yet listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
The cost of accessing the potentially life-saving drug was $15,000 for a single dose. But, incredibly, brentuximab was approved for PBS listing the very week Ryan was due to begin the treatment.
The Leukaemia Foundation worked with its supporters to inform the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee about the benefits of brentuximab vedotin, supporting its PBS listing.
“It was a massive relief,” said Ryan. “The past 15 months have been very tough on us financially. If this didn’t happen when it did, we were very concerned about the cost.”
After four doses of brentuximab, Ryan was well enough for a stem cell transplant in June this year. The Murray family then returned home, hopeful of spending a stress-free Father’s Day together.
Unfortunately, Ryan’s recent PET scan was inconclusive.
“It’s difficult to stay positive after each knock back. Fingers crossed it’s not the cancer back,” said Nikki.
“Unfortunately there isn't a happy ending to our story…yet.”
You can help give families like the Murrays urgent practical and emotional support when they face the devastation of blood cancer – 1800 620 420 or click here to make a donation.
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