This heart-breaking, yet heart-warming, story about Cameron Brown (BSSC Dux of 1998 and son of former BSSC Maths teacher Tony Brown and his wife Carol) appeared in The Age on December 28. We’re grateful Cameron can be back in Australia among friends and family as his treatment continues.
If there was a manual for friendship in tough times, it should be written by Cameron Brown’s mates.
Last year, Cam, or “Browny” as he is known, was told he had a disease so cruel it is known as The Terminator.
The diagnosis, a brain cancer called glioblastoma, was as sudden as it was unfair. One day, Cam was a fit and seemingly healthy 34-year-old studying a Masters of Business Administration in London where he was living with his wife Nikki. The next he was lining up for brain surgery and a gruelling regime of 30-year-old chemotherapy drugs, none of which would cure his disease.
While many struggled for words, two of Cam’s old uni mates, Nik Devidas and Stephen Roux, set up a fundraising page. It was a stroke of genius that would provide Cam and Nikki with some comfort in a hellish year.
And in the end, it helped bring Cam home. In October, after a second round of brain surgery, Cam was told he had a two-week window to fly back to Australia, and that he needed a medical escort to make the trip.
Nik and Stephen put a call out on Facebook. Within a day, more than 30 people had volunteered to escort Cam home, including an old school friend, Vince Anderson, who was training to be an anaesthetist in Perth.
By 6am the following day, Vince was flying to London to pick up Cam. He cared for his friend on the plane trip back, delivering drugs he needed to fend off life-threatening blood clots in his lungs. They made it home.
Cam, who is originally from Bendigo, has since been cared for in the palliative care unit of St Vincent’s Hospital. There, he and Nikki have been treated as a couple in a room of their own. Nikki lies beside him, tending to his every need.
Since they arrived home, Nik and Stephen and other friends have been busy showering them with treats. Earlier this month, they teamed up with the nursing staff to provide Cam and Nikki with a date night of sorts. A chef was brought in to the hospital to cook a three-course meal for them which was served in a private meeting room of the hospital disguised as a restaurant overlooking Melbourne.
“It was such a surprise,” Nikki said. “This has actually been quite a joyous time for us. There has been so much love.”
Nik also came good on a long-running dare to compete against Cam in a cake-eating contest. Despite a doctor advising Cam against it, he managed to stomach nearly one kilogram of chocolate mud cake in his hospital bed. Nik got through half the amount of cheese cake before bowing out. “I wouldn’t recommend it,” Nik said. “I couldn’t eat for 24 hours.”
If only the cancer was that easy to beat. During the past year, Cam has tried everything to become a “super survivor”. He researched every clinical trial on earth; dumped his veganism for a special ketogenic diet that included animal fats; took dozens of supplements in the hope they would boost his immune system; and practised yoga to draw on his deepest intent to “grow old with Nikki”.
None of it worked. Cam, an environmental scientist with a sharp wit, now hopes his story will highlight a lack of funding for research into brain cancer. The disease kills more people under 40 than any other cancer, and yet it receives less than 5 per cent of the money allocated to cancer research by the National Health and Medical Research Council each year.
For now, though, he and Nikki are grateful to be back in Australia with their loved ones.
“It’s a miracle I got home,” Cam said. “My friends have been amazing.”
Julia Medew – Health Editor
Photo: Penny Stephens