Imagine – you’re in the bathroom, staring at your toothbrush, trying to figure out how to get it wet. Thirty minutes go by and you just stand there, blankly. It’s a simple task – why can’t you do it? Ross Baker says, “Because you’re that fried with the chemo.”
‘Fried’ was putting it lightly. Ross went through a staggering amount of chemotherapy in just his first session – over 100 hours.
This kind of disorientation was unfamiliar for a guy like Ross – a self-described typical Kiwi bloke into muscle cars, competitive golf and spending time with his family.
It all began one day when Ross was struggling at a golf tournament; something felt off. He went to the doctor and had blood tests done at 3pm in the afternoon. By 7pm, he was told to report to the hospital immediately.
“Within a few hours, they found all the tumours through MRIs and scans, and they basically told me to get my lawyer in to set up my will.” Ross was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of double-hit lymphoma. He was told that he had only 5-7 days left in his life.
“I didn’t really understand it, because I had still been walking around. I thought…‘you can’t be well enough to walk around, and then just die?’”
Ross refused to accept this. His doctor said, “Well, what’s your reasoning?”, to which Ross replied, “Look mate, I’ve got too many people I want to p*** off, before I die!” His doctor just looked at him, and burst out laughing.
Ross must have been doing something right – as he survived well beyond day number 7. It was a good thing that he had a sense of humour, because it was only going to get harder from there. “It was like bang, bang, bang. I basically spent from October until New Year’s Eve in hospital, in and out with treatments.”
One month after his diagnosis, it was his daughter’s 14th birthday. He was determined to be well enough to buy her a present, because suddenly, every single day, moment and gift could be their last one together.
Ross bought her a jewellery box for keepsakes. It contained mementos, like the identification band she was given in hospital when she was born.
“The day of her birthday was tough. I broke down that night. I was quite upset.”
“We got some helium balloons, and my family wrote their own thoughts and messages on them, and let them go. It helped everyone. That’s when we realised we had a bit of a battle on our hands.”
One of the hardest parts about coping with his blood cancer, was managing the feelings of the people around him. “I had to ask some friends and family to give me space, as I felt all they wanted to do was memorialise me, by crying and taking photos for their memory books”
“You get people visiting and they’re like, ‘oh, what have you got?’ and they’re not doctors. Well…if you’re not a doctor, then just say you can’t help. And other people say, ‘how long have you got to live?’ and it’s like, ‘what, do you want to book your day off work now?”
“Come on, guys. I’m fighting for my life here, and you’re asking me when I’m gonna die?”
Ross was introduced to LBC Support Groups, through LBC Support Services Coordinator Natasha. While he found the groups useful, he needed his partner Michele with him for support.
“Because when you’re in there, it’s like white noise. Michele would takes notes and then we would talk about them a couple of days later”
“I was in insane pain. I wasn’t moving around like I was used to, I was vomiting. I wasn’t focussed on listening. I was focussed on breathing, trying to get food in, sleeping. Trying to get through the pain.”
Ross took a deep breath, he rested, and he got through the pain. Eventually, the initial battle was won, and he came out the other side of his lymphoma. He is doing better today, but he knows that there’s a chance his condition could worsen.
“My energy levels are down, so I use a golf cart on the course now. I can’t walk around. I’m forcing myself to do some building on the house, but that takes forever. But, I can do stuff. I can walk the dog, I can vacuum the house. I can do the dishes.”
Being able to do the little things makes a big difference for Ross, like brushing his teeth or cooking for his partner. And, the meaningful stuff too. Like celebrating his daughter’s birthdays.
He’s also back on the golf course, bringing his cancer journey full-circle. “I really pushed myself to do that. I won the club champs, four months after I finished treatment. I won by ten shots, with 65, 65”