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