Making new memories
“I saw the doctor and I explained to her, ‘I only want to deal with you.”
“I said to her, ‘I have talked to so many doctors in the last three months and I can’t remember anyone’s name – that’s how many there’s been. All I ask – can I just stick with you?’ And she understood that, and she said yes.”
“She took me into the room and she sat me down with a haematologist. And they said, ‘Yep. You’ve got cancer. It’s a blood cancer.’ ‘What type?’ ‘Hodgkin lymphoma’, and I asked what stage – ‘Stage 4.’ ‘OK, cool. Do I at least have a chance to live?’ ‘Oh, 50/50’”
“‘OK, sweet. That’s a chance.’”
Coleman uses such casual words to describe this moment, but his feelings are written all over his face – this is a painful memory.
It began when Coleman started experiencing terrible fevers. He was drinking dozens of bottles of water a day and sweating right through his bed sheets. When he visited his doctor in Rotorua, he was given paracetamol and told to return home.
“My sister gave me a call, and she was like ‘Get your *** to hospital!’ So I did.”
There was no improvement; by the next week, his condition had worsened.
“My temperature was still all over the place. My eyes were bloodshot as. That was scary. So my sister gave me a call, and she was like ‘Get your *** to the hospital!’ So I did. They gave me even stronger paracetamol…I took that for a while and it still didn’t work.”
When Coleman asked for medical help a third time, he explained that he’d never felt like this his entire life. His face had even started to swell up. His doctors were now very concerned, and they kept him there to do tests.
“They were trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Then it got even worse. I couldn’t sleep, I was going to the toilet five or six times a night.”
Coleman had a few CAT scans, MRIs, a biopsy and had his bone marrow tested. Still, nothing was found. “I had a funny feeling about what they were looking for, but they were looking in the wrong area.”
The second time he had a biopsy, he had lumps all over his body. Looking back, he couldn’t believe that he was still walking around.
“I didn’t want to lie down because I’d look like I was dead. I mean, I looked like I was dead anyway. I felt like giving up.”
By this point in 2020, COVID-19 restrictions meant that his hospital visits were limited.
“I just really missed my family. So I asked ‘Can I at least go home to be with them? I don’t want to be dying here.’”
“My mum died here. I don’t want to die here.”
Ten years earlier, Coleman’s Mum had passed away from cervical cancer. He and his siblings were only told about her diagnosis when she had a week left to live.
“That wasn’t enough time. How can we prepare for anything, when we know we’re about to grieve?”
Coleman didn’t want this for his family. He was thankfully allowed to go back home. Then on Friday night, he got a phone call.
“Ring, ring. ‘Coleman, what are you doing on Monday?’ ‘I don’t know, what am I doing on Monday? You tell me.’ They said to come up to Hamilton, and from then on, I knew it. I prepared myself for it.”
This was when he was told he had Hodgkin lymphoma.
Coleman was put on different medications, given blood transfusions and finally chemo – over 20 pills a day. “When I was in Hamilton, that was the best place I could have been. My face went down, and my body started to get better.”
Suddenly, Coleman was in a completely different headspace than just six months earlier.
“The cool thing was finding a reason to live. I use my kids, pretty much, as a reason to stay alive. I don’t think my kids realise how much they have impacted me.”
“And Sean too, from LBC. Sean played a massive part in our lives. I’ve been to his support meetings and I like sharing my story and hearing other people’s journeys.”
“And when Sean gave us vouchers…I’m not a person who likes to get things for free, so that broke my heart. I’d never ask, but I put my pride away and accepted the help that I needed at the time.”
Coleman not only accepted help, but he provided it too – to thousands of people.
Coleman has a TikTok account where he posts videos relating to his blood cancer journey. He shares advice, and connects with his followers; many of whom are also patients.
“A lot of my followers know my journey and they’ve been there since day one.”
Fast Facts: Hodgkin lymphoma
- Hodgkin lymphoma makes up roughly 10% of all lymphomas with about 120 diagnosed in NZ each year
- The majority of those diagnosed are aged between 15 and 35
- Hodgkin lymphoma is the name given to lymphomas that have a special kind of cancer cell, called a Reed-Sternberg cell.