“Early detection can literally save your life.”

When most of us leave school and start our journey through life we’re invincible. We hit the ground running with fresh interests, career choices, new mates and big dreams. For some, sadly, things don’t go according to plan and a health challenge upsets the apple cart. Or in this case, completely destroys it. Here’s Hugo’s story.

A loyal Adelaide boy, born and raised, Hugo was enrolled in ADFA (Australian Defence Force Academy) in 2010 to do a Bachelor in Business.

Six months in to his twelve month stint at Duntroon, Hugo was to start an unknown journey into something that has helped create the brave, positive and inspiring man he is today.

And it had nothing to do with the army.

Prompted by his dad to go to the army medic, Hugo was soon told he had testicular cancer.

He was only 21.

An ultrasound and biopsy had confirmed what instinct had told Hugo for about six months. That a lump on his testicle was cancerous.

Typically, testicular cancer, if found early enough, is highly treatable. If not, it can spread upwards through the body (similar to Lance Armstrong’s story). It is the most common cancer in young men.

April is TESTICULAR CANCER AWARENESS MONTH.

Hugo is an avid ambassador and participant in Movember in which he raised close to $15000 in 2017 and 2018.

To support this great cause (and the Legend that is Hugo), go to https://au.movember.com/mens-health/testicular-cancer

His story features here,

https://au.movember.com/news/11644/hugo-s-story-an-army-of-support/

Those around him assured Hugo that his Ca (cancer) had been detected early enough and after surgery he would be OK.

Within two days of diagnosis, Hugo’s dad flew to Canberra to be with him and surgery was performed. The testicle was removed and a prosthetic one inserted.

After recovering from the surgery Hugo said ‘life went on’ and he continued his course at Duntroon, with his new testicle and an accompanying party trick (no, I don’t know what it is).

Two months later he went for a follow up CT (computed tomography or ‘CAT’) scan. Hugo ‘didn’t think much of it’ and yet the outcome was another dreadful blow for this hard working, fun loving guy who should have been living the boisterous life of a 21 year old bloke.

The cancer had spread.

Numerous abdominal lymph nodes had been seized by the cancer and Hugo needed some more aggressive treatment this time.

With only two months until graduation, after four years of hard work and building strong ties with his mates, Hugo postponed ‘chemo’ until after he finished his studies .

(This pause would not affect the outcome of treatment.).

Hugo said “it meant I could graduate with my class of 2013 and graduate as a lieutenant in the Australian army.”

But “it was a bitter sweet feeling because on one hand I was about to graduate but on the other hand, all my mates would continue on their army careers around Australia and I was about to start an intensive course of chemotherapy.”

Six days later, Hugo’s chemo began.

He lost his hair, a lot of weight and colour. He found looking in the mirror difficult.

He’d ‘become a cancer patient’.

He was only 22.

FOUR rounds of chemotherapy with BEP treatment.

This is intravenously administered and includes the drugs bleomycin, etoposide and cisplatin (platinum), hence the term ‘BEP’. The infusion is specific to testicular cancer (and some rare forms of ovarian cancer) and each cycle takes 21 days.

Hugo had 4 cycles!

Four months after chemo, Hugo went for another CT scan to determine whether the chemo had ‘done its job’.

He was feeling positive and looking forward to ‘getting on with things’.

In a very small minority of cases, after chemotherapy, the cancerous lymph nodes remain unchanged.

The news-again- was not good.

Hugo fell into this very small minority and there was still cancer in his abdominal lymph nodes.

He said “this is why I’m so strong and passionate about early detection.”

His next huge hurdle was a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (RPLND). An intense and invasive 8 hour operation, to remove all lymph nodes from Hugo’s abdominal region.

After a long and arduous recovery period, Hugo was classified as ‘in remission’.

The initial surgery to remove a testicle, two rounds of chemotherapy and a huge operation later, he was ready to ‘get back on with things’ and recover. He was understandably ‘feeling awesome’. From now he would only need six monthly CT scans for the next five years as a check up procedure.

Deservedly, after persistence, resilience and hard work, Hugo received a promotion to ‘Captain’ in the Australian Army in 2017.

Not only was the promotion a proud moment for Hugo and his family, but knowing he attained the title through the hardships of chemotherapy and major surgery as well as the usual display of skill and ability within the army was indeed an illustrious event.

In 2017 Hugo got a posting in Brisbane. He was carrying on with his life- the way HE wanted to.

The time came for Hugo’s CT scan check. This was to be his five year mark after testicular cancer and statistically, the ‘five year milestone ‘ in remission is massive. Generally, cancer patients who reach this mark are very unlikely to see a cancer relapse.

At this point, Hugo was celebrating and feeling proud with his partner Amber. After all he had been through, it was ‘the happiest he’d been for a LONG time.’

He was ‘ready to excel, move ahead with his army career and life.’

I’d love to say Hugo got a fresh start, continued on like a 26 year old should and perhaps got to party like he missed out on when he was 21.

No.

Two months later, his ‘normal’ cranky bowel symptoms had worsened slightly in the previous weeks and through his testicular cancer ordeal, he’d learnt to act swiftly if something ‘wasn’t right’.

The naive 21 year old invincible Hugo had grown into a more life-experienced and questioning Hugo.

This prompted him to go to his Gastroenterologist ( a specialist doctor who looks after the digestive system and its disorders) and ask for a colonoscopy (a camera up the rear end and biopsy ). While his doctor explained that his routine procedure was booked in soon anyway, Hugo’s instincts caused him to insist on ‘now’.

For early detection and more information on bowel cancer go to https://jodileefoundation.org.au/bowel-cancer/screening

He said “lucky I did- because it saved my life”.

Once more, he (and his partner Amber) sat in the doctor’s office and was told he had cancer!

AGAIN!

SERIOUSLY !

Hugo now had bowel cancer.

His remission was short lived and right then he DIDN’T get a chance to excel and get on with life! He DIDN’T get a chance to catch up on missed opportunities at being 21, 22 and 23 years old.

He was quickly referred to a colorectal surgeon and it was determined that Hugo would undergo a sub-total colectomy. During this surgery, 90% of Hugo’s large bowel (colon) was removed and the small bowel was then attached to the rectum/what remained of the large bowel.

The journey to this point – I wouldn’t wish on anyone and yet Hugo’s resilience and positive attitude helped to start his recovery. He had his catheter and naso-gastric tube (feeding tube) removed and was just beginning to feel OK.

Was this the beginning of his new ‘normal’? Was he NOW allowed to carry on with his life?

I swear to you-this isn’t made up.

Hugo’s condition rapidly deteriorated into ‘the most excruciating pain’ he had ever experienced. Morphine was administered directly into his stomach to no avail.

Code Blue. It was an emergency.

Through heavy sedation, Hugo was scanned again and he needed to go to surgery immediately.

Hugo was in so much pain that his Dad (bless him) had to sign the paperwork, including the fact that his son ‘may not wake up’ from the surgery this time.

Can you imagine???

So much surgery within the abdominal region had promoted large amounts of scar tissue of the mesentery (connective tissue outside the bowel and organs ) around Hugo’s bowel. This had led to volvulus or torsion. The bowel becomes twisted , convoluted and blocked as a result.

It was said to Hugo that if he had waited even one hour more, he would have lost all of his bowel and it was likely to have been fatal.

For early detection and more information on bowel cancer go tohttps://jodileefoundation.org.au/bowel-cancer/screening

How’s YOUR day going?

The next three weeks of Hugo’s recovery were ‘the darkest days of his life’.

What was he to do? Hadn’t life thrown enough at this fella?

In hindsight, Hugo realises that from all he’d been through, he was depressed. He physically couldn’t eat or drink and had lost a vast amount of weight. Unfortunately the doctors offered no inkling of improvement each day.

He had the support of his partner Amber and his family, who were there helping every day but Hugo put on a brave face. He didn’t want to appear vulnerable or weak.

He explains that after his family left each night, he would let the tears flow. With no clear cut prospects for the future, Hugo found his mental strength waning, his worries increasing and his will to be strong fading. He was ‘down’ and he didn’t want to show it.

Nothing was certain any more.

In retrospect, Hugo realises one of the hardest parts of his life journey so far was telling his family out loud about his diagnosis. He’s had massive support from his parents, twin brother, sister and partner Amber and to burden them with news such as the third diagnosis of cancer was so hard to do.

Six months on now, Hugo is in a better place.

He has good days and bad days but is in a much better mental and physical state.

He attributes his success at facing his health challenges to family.

Not only the support and love of his immediate and extended family, but the camaraderie of the Australian Army.

To Hugo, the army is ‘one big family’ and without the understanding and backing from them, he may not have made it this far.

He stresses the fact that sharing your story and opening up is key to mental healing and improving one’s health.

I urge you to listen to Hugo’s podcast ’25stayalive’ he produces with his mate Matthew ‘Willy’ Williams- also in the forces. The link to the podcast is https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/25stayalive/id1451278690?mt=2

During these podcasts, it’s so refreshing and admirable to see two mates, who’ve been through the ‘absolute wringer’ and in MY eyes, have come out as champions. Heroes.

Have a listen to ’25StayAlive’.

Hugo is the epitome of strength and resilience and it is people like HIM we should look up to. It’s people like HIM who make the world a better place by being in it.

Dealt a bloody rough hand, he persisted through the hard and downright impossible yards to be able to share his story.

It’s a sad story -yes, but with positive messages for all of us. Join me in celebrating his strength, his vulnerability and his empathy towards those on the journey with him.

He was taken right down to a very dark place by a bastard of a disease and he came back.

Congratulations Hugo.

Thank you for your story and your strength. Thank you for promoting awareness and early detection.

I wish you all the best in whatever you choose in life.

In Hugo’s honour, I urge you to trust your gut! If you are unsure of symptoms or appearance on any part of your being, please get ‘it’ checked!

“There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.”

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