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Myeloma motivated me to get my doctorate

Published Date: 15 June 2017 Categories: Patients, Myeloma

When Harvey Westbury and his wife were on holiday in St Petersburg, Russia, in 2008, they were not expecting a cancer diagnosis.

Harvey and Jo Westbury

“My wife Jo and I were visiting as tourists, and I became progressively less well while we were there,” Harvey said.

“Jo called the hotel doctor after I collapsed in our room with general weakness, severe back spasms, and gastro-intestinal problems.”

The myeloma had also caused end-stage kidney failure, forcing Harvey to fight for his life for several weeks in hospital in Russia.

Harvey was subsequently air-ambulanced to a more specialised hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, where he was finally stabilised. After a few weeks he was air-ambulanced to the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane.

After an autologous stem cell transplant, chemotherapy, and haemo-dialysis (which he still undertakes), Harvey went home to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.

“My treatment plan ultimately saved my life, but I found I was unable to do many of the activities I enjoyed before. I needed something else to keep me occupied,” Harvey said.

Harvey had previously spent most of his career working in veterinary research, primarily studying animal infectious diseases caused by viruses.

“Following my diagnosis, I was unable to do much physical activity without tiring very quickly. However, I still had my mental facilities and thought I needed an appropriate challenge to keep me going,” he said.

Consequently, he enrolled to undertake the onerous and demanding requirements for the Doctor of Veterinary Science (DVSc) degree at the University of Sydney.

“I was required to write and submit for examination a very detailed scientific thesis concerning the virus diseases of animals,” Harvey said.

Harvey says he had “ups and downs” during the three years it took him to write his thesis, along with further hospital admissions for health complications.

“Doing the research and the writing for my thesis was certainly challenging, but I persisted despite the setbacks – I was determined to finish it,” he said.

Harvey’s determination paid off last year, when he was awarded his DVSc for his thesis titled ‘Studies on endemic, exotic and emerging diseases of animals caused by viruses’.

Harvey Westbury

Harvey said the staff at the Noosa Hospital Renal Unit helped him during his study, as they encouraged patients to do things they may never have contemplated before.

He found further support with the Leukaemia Foundation’s newsletters, which he has received for several years.

“I really enjoy reading them, particularly the stories about people facing the challenge of life-changing events. They help provide inspiration – if they can do it, so can I!”

Harvey has a few words of inspiration of his own to share with others. “Get involved in something that you reckon you can do, preferably something that’s challenging,” he said.

“This creates, in my opinion, a very positive attitude and immunises you against negative thoughts and any feelings that life is not worthwhile.”

Harvey is now keeping busy with researching his family tree, and taking part in community activities. He’s also still “basking in the satisfaction” of finishing his DVSc.

“What seemed improbable, in the first instance, turned into reality. Dreams do come true, even under difficult circumstances.”

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