Finding the light: Trent’s journey with cancer

Wednesday 27 May, 2020

Trent was a shy and timid 24-year-old, but since surviving cancer, things have changed.

Thanks to successful treatment and the support of his tight-knit family, Trent made it through two encounters with cancer and has become more open to stepping out of his comfort zone and speaking his mind.

“I’ve realised all of the things that used to worry me don’t worry me anymore – if I can tackle cancer, I can tackle anything,” said Trent.

It all started eight years ago when Trent scratched his tongue, which subsequently led to scar tissue developing as it healed. At first, he didn’t think anything of it.

Then, two years later, a burning sensation persisted on the same spot over a couple of days, and Trent knew something wasn’t right.

“I got it checked out, and the results came back showing it was skin cancer. I was 24 at the time and was told that I was the youngest case of this specific type,” said Trent.

Just two weeks later, Trent was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital to commence surgery and treatment for the squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) on his tongue.

The timing was unfortunate for Trent, but also coincidental.

“This was happening during my second year of Biomedical Science, and the semester prior was studying all about cancer,” explained Trent.

Trent graduated his Bachelor of Biomedical Science degree in 2015 at Federation University, Ballarat.

Trent graduated his Bachelor of Biomedical Science degree in 2015 at Federation University, Ballarat.

 Once Trent got to the hospital, he had surgery to remove the cancerous part of his tongue and, for the time being, lost the ability to talk and eat.

Trent says the experience of having part of his tongue removed was frightening and confronting. At the time, he didn’t feel prepared for what happened after he woke up with a trache (breathing tube) in his throat.

“Normally our bodies have the ability to breathe instinctively without having to think about it. We can always tell that we are breathing from the constant movement of air through our nose or mouth, however with the trache, that sensation is gone,” said Trent.

“After I woke up, it wasn't until I took a second to calm down and realise that my body is still breathing that I started to relax a little,” said Trent.

Unfortunately, there was more bad news.

“They also went through my lymph nodes to see whether it had spread, which it hadn’t, however they found thyroid tissue in my neck – a precursor for thyroid cancer developing,” he said.

Trent’s doctors explained to him that there was a 90% chance of the tissue developing into cancer within a year.

Although he struggled mentally through his treatment, Trent always remained determined to find the light in his situation – not only for himself, but for his family too.

“I was starting to spiral down. But then I thought, this is something that I cannot control, I’ll just have to take it as it is and roll with the punches,” said Trent.

Trent with his mum, dad and sister at his graduation in 2015.

Trent with his mum, dad and sister at his graduation in 2015.

“I also saw that with my downward spiral, not only was I going downhill mentally and emotionally, my family was following suit.”

Trent says his family are very close, and when one person is struggling, the whole family becomes concerned.

“I don’t like seeing other people upset,” said Trent, “so I started to try and find the humorous side of things, even if it’s a little bit of dark humour.

“I started picking up my family’s wellbeing and emotions, but I also noticed it in myself,” he said.

Understandably, Trent was shaken after having two encounters with cancer in two weeks. For a long time, he was concerned about cancer recurrence.

“Even through my remission period, I still had that thought process in the back of my head: where else could I have cancer?”

Six years on, Trent has been able to move on from cancer mentally, although he keeps a closer eye on his health than he did previously.

“This whole thought process and worry was a bit more during the first two or three years of my remission period. Now, it’s basically just an afterthought,” he said.

Trent likes to focus on the positives he can take from his experience with cancer. One thing he feels has changed for the better is his personality.

“Before the cancer diagnosis, I was actually a shy, quiet and timid person, and never really shared what was on my mind,” explained Trent.

“But now, I’ve become very talkative with people – it doesn’t matter who it is!”

When Trent was five years cancer free – marking the end of his remission period – he wanted to celebrate. What better way to do that than a trip around the world?

Trent in front of the Eiffel Tower during his celebratory Europe trip.

Trent in front of the Eiffel Tower during his celebratory Europe trip.

 “I did a 28-day Europe tour and on top of that stayed in London for a further week,” said Trent.

“Before the cancer, I don’t know whether I actually would have.”

Trent says having cancer himself gave him even more determination put his studies to use by helping others impacted by the disease.

He’s also thinking of reaching out to others facing cancer, to support them on their path to recovery. For now, he has a message of hope to share with them.

“Even though things might seem bleak, and in its darkest hour, there’s always light to bring you back to where you once were,” said Trent.

“Sometimes it can be a little difficult to find, but keep positive, and you will find that light.”