The Hobart

Beating Blood (Y) Cancer: Josh Gourlay

by Lily Whiting
Beating Blood (Y) Cancer: Josh Gourlay

A lot can happen in eighteen months. Josh Gourlay became one of 53 Australians diagnosed with blood cancer last year, but thankfully one who can say it’s been and gone, and the other side is looking far sunnier.

This year has started very differently to last. How has the past six months of being in remission been? Honestly, it’s been as close to “business as usual” as possible. Once I was in remission, I was determined to pick up life where it left off. Cancer took up enough of my time and I didn’t want to give it any more of that time. It’s been a year of significant events though, my marriage ended, I moved back in with my parents, I lost two pets, but on the other side of that, I’ve been able to rediscover who I am as a person and begun working towards living life the way I choose to do it.

What symptoms in your body led you to seeking medical advice? My own health anxiety and a small, persistent lymph node above my right collar bone. There were no other accompanying symptoms, but after a couple of inconsistent blood tests and a biopsy, the diagnosis came in. I had felt like an otherwise perfectly healthy, normal 31-year-old. Scary, huh?

You blogged during your cancer journey. How did that help you? My blog, But What If It’s Cancer?, initially started as a way of communicating my thoughts, experiences and feelings with friends and family and it quickly blew out to almost 2000 followers. It provided me comfort and allowed me to capture the experiences of a cancer diagnosis, educate others, and give a day-by-day account – something akin to a journal that I can reflect on in years to come. It also provided a source of entertainment for me and for others because I was able to inject my own humour into an otherwise very dark situation. If you can’t laugh about it, you’ll just cry.

Josh blogging in hospital pre-transplant

What does being on the other side of a cancer diagnosis feel like? Is there still a space for your blog to continue? Life after cancer is challenging because you’re always wondering about the “what ifs?” and there’s always the fear of relapse. I’ve continued my blog sporadically because I want to show others that there absolutely is a life after cancer. And it can be fantastic. On reflection, the time since my diagnosis feels like a blur, like it’s someone else’s story – I really don’t feel like I’ve been through what I have been!

In light of the World’s Greatest Shave approaching in March, how did the physical changes such as hair loss impact you? I’ve always been a thin person, and in the lead-up to my wedding in April 2021(before diagnosis), I had actually gained an extra 10kgs. It was a blessing and a shame because cancer treatment took all that hard work away from me! It felt like cancer was the Universe’s way of telling me I was never supposed to be bigger than what I’ve always been. Looking back at photos of myself during treatment, I don’t recognise the person in them but at the time I didn’t even notice the changes. I was ready to lose all my hair (which I did…twice!) and I also lost all my finger and toenails, which was something I was not ready for. Happy to report, everything has grown back with a fierce vengeance!

With life returning somewhat back to normal, what does life look like for you in Hobart now? Since achieving remis­sion, life has been on the up. I jumped back into working full time as soon as I could, I’ve recently purchased my first home and also just temporarily relocated to Canberra. I wanted to make some big changes and I figured that if I can take on cancer and win, I can take on anything!

What is 2023 going to bring you? In 2020, I turned 30 and not long after, COVID hit and we all went into lockdown. In 2021, I was diagnosed with cancer. This year, 2022, my marriage ended but I also achieved remission and that was the permission to keep living. So for 2023, there is quite a bit of lost time to make up for – travelling is number one on the list, but also, I’d love some normality and stability.

How did your support system con­tribute to your treatment, and now in remission? The support was unri­valled. It’s cliché but I wouldn’t have gotten through without them. Everyone – friends, family, strangers, my Doctors, Nurses, the Leukaemia Foundation – there was never a moment I felt alone or unsupported. They laughed at my bad jokes, tolerated the mood swings, sat with me in silence as I slept, cried, talked their ears off. They never treated me as a patient, or as a sick person, they treated me the way they always have – as Josh. And that is exactly what I wanted.

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May 2024

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