On December 17th, 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..
On December 17th, 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, access to specialist health care services is limited.
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 3 operations and copious amounts of follow up appointments’ Jan recalls.
‘Every time Ron had to go down to Melbourne, we needed to take a day off work, find suitable accommodation and organise for our son to stay with family or friends’.
One time when Ron became unwell very quickly, Jan had no other option than to drive him from Ararat Hospital to Melbourne, which was 3 hours away. The only ambulance servicing the 11,000 residents of Ararat was unavailable. Jan knew she was taking a huge risk driving Ron to Melbourne without medical monitoring, but she had no other choice.
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’.
Ron is currently doing well and wife Jan is mindful that while their experience has been challenging, they have been fortunate to receive expert care and treatment which has led to positive health outcomes. Ron and Jan support the need for change however in ensuring regional patients have greater equality and access to health care services within their local community.