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Why is he laughing? Geoff's Story

A cartoonist’s journey with cancer. Because it’s never too late to stop smoking!

“I started smoking around 1963 – it was not uncommon in those days and working as a cartoonist I used cigarettes as a break between drawing sessions. A pulmonary embolism in 2010 stopped me in my tracks and I was strongly advised to stop smoking.  

After many attempts, I finally managed to stop in 2012. I’m so very glad that I did, because there’s a good chance I may not be here to tell my story if I hadn’t.

Years later in 2017, I experienced increasing hoarseness of voice, shortness of breath, tiredness, coughing and chills. The initial diagnosis was bronchitis, but with things not improving my GP referred me for heart and lung tests. What the cardiologist suspected led me straight to an oncologist. A bronchoscopy confirmed inoperable, advanced stage 3 Non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). ­

I was scheduled for six weeks of daily radiation interspersed with weekly chemotherapy, or as the oncologist put it… ‘everything but the kitchen sink’. Due to the position of the tumour, I completely lost my voice and ability to consume anything but liquids.  Following this treatment regime, it was straight into twelve months of immunotherapy followed by surgery.  All in all, two years of treatments and ongoing side effects.

Humour became my natural way to cope. My drawing board has always been my ‘happy place’ and where I feel I’m at my best.  From this place I write and draw, seeking the humour in every adverse situation. It distracts me from my fears and makes my difficult days and nights a lot more positive.  Most importantly, it gives me a sense of being on the front foot and having some sort of control.

I find that humour makes everyone around me a little happier, more ready to talk. Faces light up when you can make them laugh. My family, nurses and doctors fully embrace the cartoon humour and it was largely their encouragement that led to a book and now daily cartoons on Instagram. I appreciate that not everyone is able to create humour around cancer, but I know it’s possible to look for humour in frightening places and situations. By sharing how I ‘find the funny’ in coping with my own cancer, maybe it might lighten the burden for others.

My respiratory physician, Associate Professor Daniel Steinfort from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, stressed the importance of stopping smoking.

 “Geoff’s story illustrates what we know to be true – it is never too late to stop smoking. No matter your age, the earlier you can stop smoking the lower your risk of lung cancer or death from heart disease.

“Even after a lung cancer diagnosis, it is still not too late to improve your health through quitting: stopping smoking after a cancer diagnosis, prior to treatment is associated with significantly better treatment outcomes and even better survival”, says Daniel.

Thanks to quitting when I did, there are some encouraging signs - scans earlier this year were OK. A November scan is next. From here on, every day is a good day!!

If you smoke, stop now - it’s never too late.

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