Neil Brownlie has recently finished treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML); but he has faced more hurdles at age 37 than most people encounter in a lifetime.
The first occurred ten years ago when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I did some treatment, but I wasn’t staying in hospital or anything like that. I went every couple of weeks to get some chemo and radiation.”
Only five years later, cancer reared its ugly head once again.
“I got Burkitt’s lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I had to stay in hospital to treat that. I was only getting chemo at that time, but I was in hospital for around six months. It was a pretty long stay.”
After surviving two different cancers, Neil was facing issues with his employment.
“Before I got sick, I was working for myself. But now I’m not quite up to the physical rigours of what I had been doing.”
When speaking about LBC, Neil says that this was an area where he could lean on Deb, the Support Services Coordinator in Dunedin, and her team for advice and support.
“With just my partner working, it was difficult, especially when I was the higher income earner. The financial support LBC gave to my family, like food and fuel vouchers, really helped.”
In January of 2020 – Neil was back in Dunedin Hospital undergoing even more chemotherapy. This time, the diagnosis was different. Although he’d already overcome two forms of lymphoma, he was now being treated for AML.
“I went in and had treatment for about four months, and then I had to go and get a stem-cell transplant. For the stemcell transplant, I went up to Christchurch Hospital and stayed up there for just shy of four months as well.”
While receiving treatment for AML, Neil encountered a unique problem. Throughout his three rounds of cancer, he had already had the maximum amount of a number of chemotherapy drugs that one person is allowed to receive in their lifetime. Yes, this is something that can happen in New Zealand.
“They kind of just gave me what chemo they could but kept dropping them as I had reached their limit.”
On top of all that, Neil’s most recent treatment was happening during 2020 – the year COVID-19 spread around the globe.
“When the country went into lockdown for six weeks, I wasn’t allowed to leave my hospital room or have visitors, which included my wife and kids. Before that, I would walk around the hospital ward and go for a wander outside occasionally, but I wasn’t allowed to leave my room for those six weeks. So, that was an extra challenge.”
It was while the nation was facing the global pandemic that Neil underwent his stem-cell transplant.
“They got rid of the cancer before I even went to Christchurch for the transplant. The problem was, because they couldn’t give me all of the chemo drugs; there was no way it was going to stay away.”
Amazingly though, he has come out on the other side and is now only on the necessary post-transplant medication.
“I have had no sign of cancer coming back.”
Neil’s story is one of hope and focussing on the positive, but also thinking outside the box. During all of this journey, Neil had to re-evaluate what his next move could be workwise, as he could not work as a qualified electrician due to the physical nature of the job. This didn’t stop Neil. What he did was head back to school to upskill his knowledge and qualify to do something new.
“Id looked into studying, not sure what I was going to do. I didn’t want to throw all of my electrical experience out the door. However, it just so happened that since there is such a shortage of electrical engineers in the country, the Government made it so that the course is free for the next two years. It saved me about 10,000 dollars a year in fees. So basically, when I saw that, I was like, this is my opportunity.”
Armed with a new lease on life, Neil says there is another major factor in tackling challenges as they arise.
“I believe that attitude has a large chunk to do with success. The worst-case scenario is always there, but if you dwell on it, it creates a lot of anxiety, whereas if you let things play out, it usually ends up not being as bad as you thought it was. You’ve got to try to stay positive.”