10 December 2017
Every day, six Australians are diagnosed with brain and other central nervous system cancers, with just two of those people still alive five years after diagnosis. Forty-two year old South Australian Gina Rositano knows all too well the devastating impact of a brain cancer diagnosis.
For Gina, her cancer journey started two years ago with a constant headache that wouldn’t go away.
“I kept on taking Panadol and just ignored it. They weren’t bad headaches, they were just always there,” she explains.
Then one night in October 2015 everything changed. Gina woke up to a severe seizure, so intense it caused her to fracture her shoulder in two places. Immediately admitted to Royal Adelaide hospital, what followed was a never ending barrage of CT scans, MRI’s and blood tests.
She was then told the news that no one expects to hear.
“I was with my son, mum, dad, aunt, uncle and sisters when I was told that I had cancer. I was diagnosed with a Grade 4 Glioblastoma around 2cm in length. I was told that it had been there for around 7 weeks and it couldn’t be cured. I was also told I had 18 months to live.”
Surrounded by her loved ones, Gina began treatment. A mother with two children, Julian now 21 and Isabella, now 14, Gina’s first thought was her family.
“When I first found out the news I was actually really calm. I was consoling my family, especially my son.”
Gina’s family reached out to Cancer Council SA 13 11 20 to help them cope with the news. She explains how the Cancer Council Nurses provided her parents with someone to talk to during a particularly difficult time.
“My family really needed support and my Dad really struggled. Through Cancer Council, they were able to reach out and talk to someone and get the information that they needed.”
Following the news, Gina immediately underwent her first surgery to remove the tumour. The five hour operation took part in Royal Adelaide Hospital and Gina remained awake the entire time. During the operation, she had another seizure on the table, which meant that doctors could only remove half of the tumour. It also impacted Gina’s speech, leaving her unable to communicate.
“Following surgery I wanted to desperately say something but I couldn’t. I was saying it in my head, but I couldn’t speak. At one point, I was desperately trying to get the nurses attention, but he was too busy to notice, chatting to someone else. I had another seizure in my hospital bed and was so scared to sleep I didn’t even blink for the rest of the night.”
Gina regained her ability to speak, but her journey was by no means over. She remained in hospital for seven weeks and then began radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Her tumour continued to grow, with Doctor’s seeming to be out of options.
It was then that Gina reached out to renowned brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo. She travelled to Sydney and underwent a risky operation to save her life.
“I was told that the operation could impact my speech, I could lose movement down my right hand side or I could even be wheelchair bound. But I knew that it was my only option.”
Dr Teo was able to remove 96% of Gina’s tumour and was also able to put in the part of her skull that was removed during her first operation.
Unfortunately, Gina’s speech was impacted during the operation causing her to ‘mumble and jumble’ all the time
“It took me about four months to get my speech back. I’m still not completely happy with it, but I guess I notice it more than others.”
Two years after that initial night in October, Gina has exceeded the Doctor’s expectations. Although she will never be cancer free, she is happy and healthy and approaches each day with positivity.
“I’m here alive. I feel absolutely healthy and I haven’t had a seizure since September last year. I've never felt better but I'm still on medication as I may still be at risk of seizures. My message to others is to be happy and positive always. I am happier now than I have ever been. And when it comes to life, there is no turning back. Live, laugh and love. That’s my motto, I can honestly say that.”
Although the survival rate for all cancer types has increased from 48 per cent in 1984 – 1988 to 68 per cent in 2009 – 2013, the survival rate for brain and other central nervous system cancers remains at 25 per cent.
Cancer Council SA Chief Executive Lincoln Size says that Gina’s story is a reminder that more research is needed to better understand rare cancers such as brain cancer.
“Gina’s story is a stark reminder that there is still a lot that we don’t know about brain and other rare types of cancers. Through continual investment into research we can work together to understand these rare cancers, and how we can increase the survival rate for those impacted.”
Gina’s story is featured in the Cancer Council SA 2017 Christmas Campaign. To find out more about Gina’s story and how you can donate and make a difference visit: www.cancersa.org.au/get-involved/donate/please-make-a-gift-today/christmas
To speak to an experience Cancer Council Nurse contact Cancer Council SA on 13 11 20.