Queensland firefighter shares his lung cancer survivor story
Brett Torcetti is a 50 year old firefighter from Clifton, Queensland. He is a busy father of seven children and grandfather to three grand-children, all between the ages of 7 – 24 years.
Brett is also a lung cancer survivor.
In December 2011, while working as an Auxiliary firefighter for Queensland Fire and Emergency Service, Brett was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“The only symptom I had was a chest infection, or so I thought. My GP gave me some antibiotics and said if my chest didn’t clear in two weeks he would send me for a scan to make sure I didn’t have pneumonia,” Brett said.
After no improvement, Brett’s GP sent him to have a chest scan.
“It was two days before Christmas, and the xray department told me that my results wouldn’t be available until after the Christmas break because the couriers would not deliver over this period,” Brett said.
“After the scan, we (myself, my wife and kids) went to look for a new car.”
“Within an hour of having the scan, I got a call from the clinic to say I needed to go straight to my GP surgery and that he was expecting me,” Brett said.
Brett and his family returned to the surgery to be told that he had a 20mm mass on his lung and that his GP was unsure what the mass was. The GP made an appointment for Brett with a specialist at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane in the New Year.
Further testing (including a PET scan and fine needle biopsy) confirmed that Brett had an adenocarcinoma of the left lower lobe of the lung.
“My specialist told me that I have lung cancer and I said ‘Ok, what do we do about it?’,”
Brett recalled. He explained to my wife and I that he would have to do a lobectomy of the lower lobe of my left lung.
“In simple terms, they were going to cut the bottom part of my lung away!” he said.
“My wife was upset with the diagnosis and had a struggle to come to terms with it to start with, thinking I was going to die. I don’t like keeping anything from my children so we sat them down and explained to them what I had and how we were going to fix it. The kids were a bit upset, but they were glad we told them.”
In March 2012, Brett was admitted to the Princess Alexandra Hospital for his lobectomy.
Four days after the surgery, he went home. One week later, Brett had a follow up appointment in Brisbane.
“Everything was looking good,” Brett said.
Two weeks after the surgery, he had an appointment in Toowoomba Base Hospital to work out what chemotherapy he would need to have and how often he would have it.
“The local cancer nurse explained to me some of the side effects of the drugs and what to expect. She also explained the treatment to my wife and kids, so they were aware of what to expect,” Brett said.
“During my treatment I had chronic tonsillitis so I was on large doses of antibiotics. I was determined not to sit around moping about feeling sick, so I would get Tina (my wife) and the kids in the car and go away for a few days. Tina thought I was trying to live out my bucket list, but I wasn’t. This was my way of dealing with the horrible side effects of chemotherapy. I found that if I was doing something, I wouldn’t be thinking about how sick I was feeling. This approach also helped me to keep a positive attitude. I am, by nature, a positive person and try not to let things get me down,” Brett admitted.
After completing chemotherapy, things slowly started getting back to normal for Brett and his family.
“I have had some residual side effects of chemotherapy. I found that my hip joint was getting stiff and sore. I went back to my GP and xrays revealed that my hip joint was rubbing bone on bone,” Brett said.
“I started back with the Fire Service and was deployed to Bundaberg after the 2013 floods.
It was taking me 20 minutes to put my sock and boot on my right foot due to the hip joint. After my deployment, I made the difficult decision to retire from the Fire service because I didn’t want to be a hazard on the fire ground if I went down. It could take two other firefighters to get me out of danger risking their own lives to save me, so I didn’t want that hanging over me. Firefighting is in my blood, so I decided to join the Rural Fire Service as a volunteer firefighter,” Brett said.
On the up side, Brett believes life doesn’t stop just because you have (lung) cancer. Cancer can be cured, if detected early.
“I think having a positive attitude has made a big difference to my outcome as it has prompted me to fight,” Brett said.
Brett now volunteers at the Toowoomba Base Hospital chemotherapy ward one day a week to help cancer patients and the nursing staff.
“I have a passion to help people dealing with cancer and I like to help make their lives that little bit better if I can,” Brett said.
“There are positives that have come out of having cancer. It isn’t necessarily a death sentence but the start of a new life. I now have a different look on my life. I try not to sweat the little things anymore”.
If you have been recently diagnosed with cancer, Brett suggests that you try to stay positive, and don’t drive yourself crazy researching your type of cancer on the internet.
“It’s important to be informed, but don’t obsess over all the misinformation on the net,” Brett said.
“Check in with a reliable website like Lung Cancer Network Australia”.
“If you don’t understand what your doctor is saying, ask questions until you do understand,” Brett said.