On the 17th of December 2011 Ron Gibson knew something was not right. He had been experiencing severe abdominal pain, so bad he decided he would sleep in the spare room so his wife Jan could get a good night’s sleep.
Ron Gibson and his family live in regional Victoria in a small town, Ararat. Ararat appears to have all the services you need, but like most regional cities in Australia, the range of services is often limited and patients and their families are forced to travel long distances.
Ron stayed awake most of that night thinking he may have had a bad case of gastroenteritis. The pain became so excruciating that Ron drove himself to the Ararat hospital where he was told to go home and sleep it off.
‘When I woke up in the morning and saw Ron in more pain then the night before we headed back to the hospital, we knew it was more than just a virus’, Jan recalls.
Ron spent a week in the Ararat hospital without improvement before Jan demanded that the doctor run some tests to find an answer as to why Ron was becoming more and more unwell.
‘The doctors ran some scans which highlighted that I had a 5cm neuroendocrine tumour in the pancreas’ Ron said.
The local doctor referred Ron to a surgeon in Ballarat who then referred Ron to a specialist in Melbourne.
‘He told me it wasn’t looking good and there was nothing they could do for me’ Ron said, ‘the doctor said I may have only six to twelve months left of life’.
Ron and Jan drove the two and a half hours back to Ararat in complete silence, shocked and bewildered that Ron may only have 6 months to live. How on earth were they going to tell their son that his father might not be alive for his 12th Birthday.
The next day Ron received a call from the surgeon, ‘he said he had a meeting with his team and they were going to operate, we couldn’t believe it’.
Ron and Jan’s life was suddenly turned upside down, with constant trips to Melbourne so Ron could receive the best possible treatment while trying to maintain work and family life balance.
‘It was a big financial drain, driving to Melbourne and seeking accommodation, every time Ron became ill, especially because since Ron’s diagnosis in 2011 he has had 3operations and copious amounts of follow up appointments’, Jan recalls.
‘Every time Ron has to go down to Melbourne we need to take a day off work, find suitable accommodation and organise for our son to stay with family or friends’.
Jan remembers back to a time that she almost thought she would lose her husband.
‘Ron became unwell very quickly, I was told by the doctors at Ararat Hospital that he needed to be transferred to Melbourne and she would have to drive him’.
Jan drove Ron the 3 hours to Melbourne as the one and only ambulance that services 11, 000 people living in Ararat was unavailable.
Jan knew she was taking a huge risk driving Ron to Melbourne without medical monitoring but she had no other choice but to transport him, herself.
When she arrived in Melbourne the doctors said ‘Ron’s life has been compromised, you could have lost him’.
Ron’s work colleague and family friend John Barton knows about the struggles people face when becoming ill and having to travel for specialist services.
‘Once you have to move away from home to receive treatment, the family support services aren’t available, the isolation and anxiety creeps in and these families are going through some really trying times, not only by being sick but also being away from their family and their home’.
One third of people diagnosed with pancreatic, liver, biliary and foregut cancer live outside the major population centres.
Because of the complexity of treatment and the absence of specialist services, regional patients need to travel to major cities for a majority of their care. This must change.
A patient’s location should NOT present a barrier to accessing quality medical services.
In 2015 Pancare will support a range of targeted rural health programs and activities to assist all patients and their families living with pancreatic, liver, biliary and foregut cancers, and we need your help.