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Then & Now

By Josh

My name is Josh and I am a rock climber from Perth, Western Australia.

For as long as I can remember my brother and I were the kids who had eaten too many smarties at the party and were climbing trees, freaking all the other parents out except our own. I have always been interested in the outdoors with my parents always delivering one camping trip a year.

I first discovered climbing through outdoor education at school. At the time I didn’t think too much of it, but as the classes went on I started to enjoy myself. I left school to begin an apprenticeship in Furniture Making and I soon forgot all about it as my commitments had changed. It wasn’t until I became a tradesman in mid 2008 that I decided to give it another try for some general fitness. This soon turned into an obsession. Burning the candles at both ends from work to training nightly, my skills progressed.

What I enjoyed most was climbing with my best friends; venturing out into the Perth Hills and the south coast of WA climbing the classics.

Working in my trade five days a week, I would jump at any opportunity to load up my 4WD and head out climbing for the weekend; either with a small group, a mate or sometimes solo. Having the drive and the right positive people behind me, time went on I started exploring our great State more, looking and succeeding on harder problems. Work had soon become a tool to fund my climbing.

Picking up a new boulder pad one afternoon I started talking to the store manager about my small adventures. With him being a previous professional athlete he was excited to hear about my drive, determination and activity in the climbing community and introduced me to the storeowner. As I spoke with the owner we each had, in a weird and wonderful way, a connection about where we wanted to go. A handshake and verbal agreement was made and I was sponsored by a local Perth company. To climb and travel had now become a goal. One evening, talking to a couple in the gym, they amazed me in so many ways and that lit the short fuse to get my ass into gear. Hearing about their travels within Australia and abroad, also discussing how I enjoyed their routes that were like boulder problems on a rope we soon became close friends.

Travelling numerous times abroad and throughout Australia, the Grampians National Park in Victoria had now become a home away from home. This gave me the drive, knowledge and experience to scope and put up first ascents of my own boulders and routes throughout Australia.

With my travels I soon became accustomed not to jump on every route or boulder I saw. At times I would pass up a three star classic to climb something people would just walk past. Some people would have said I was a selective individual.

As time went on my skills progressed. I never thought I was a strong climber; there are many others out there who consistently push their boundaries travelling the world. I liked to consider myself as a well-rounded climber. I was lucky enough to be in the situation where I managed to pick up additional sponsorships and in the end was able to successfully climb consistent grade 29 routes and v11 boulders.

Easter 2013 (23 Years old)
With the onset of a sudden illness my parents took me to the local emergency department. After ruling out infections and spider bite they decided to do a CT scan, concerns soon moved me to have an MRI. It was discovered that I was suffering from a Grade 3 Posterior Fossa Ependynoma with possible CFS involving the 4th Ventricle.

After 10 hours of surgery they removed a mass that was the size of 2 iphones. (Approximately 100mm H x 60mm D x 20mm W). During this surgery my heart had stopped beating, enough to make one of Australia’s top Neurosurgeons and his Antitheist nervous; but I pulled through. The operation resulted in:
• 32 staples
• 10 titanium plates
• 2 lumber punctures
• 1 fluid drain from 4th ventricle
• 4 weeks in hospital
• Weight loss of over 20Kg.

Ready to leave hospital a check scan showed that I had yet another mass growing on my left frontal lobe. After a ‘black and white’ discussion with my Neurosurgeon we decided to take a biopsy, this confirmed a Grade 3 Infiltrating Astrocytoma was growing on the memory side of the brain. Once I recovered from my first operation and biopsy a plan of attack was put together to remove the spider web of a tumor.

29th July 2013
I underwent 8 hours of surgery to remove the Grade 3 Infiltrating Astrocytoma that was growing on my left frontal lobe. The operation resulted in:
• 29 staples
• 8 titanium plates
• 3 weeks in hospital.

Recovering from my surgeries I faired well due to my fitness accompanied by my mental health and determination to beat what was ahead of me. But the worst was yet to come.

After consulting our given Radiologist, my family and myself decided to change to a more experienced Radiologist. As we met we put together a plan to radiate. If there is one thing I would have liked to understand more it would be knowing how my body was going to cope to this new round of abuse. Over a 10-week period my treatment consisted of:
• 8 weeks cranial/ spinal radiation
• Five tattoos
• 1 ‘Rocky Horror’ show mask
• A loss of hair.

I finished radiation treatment the day before I turned 24 years old. Once I recovered from that round of treatment and my bone marrow had just scraped through a further check up scan in December 2013 showed that the Grade 3 Posterior Fossa Ependynoma was still active. Further treatment was arranged to use a procedure called Stereotactic Radiation. This is where they isolate the radiation to a given area but the procedure came with a high risk, given the location of my tumor. Having faith in my Radiologist we proceeded with treatment over 5 days… the gamble had paid off… and of course I was able to bring home another rocky horror show mask.

February 2014
To have the best possible outcome my team of specialists decided that chemotherapy would be my next option. On meeting my Chemotherapist we were made aware of my difficult situation in regards to the correct drugs to use. The decision was made to use a trial pediatric program of intravenous and tablet forms of medication. Over the following months my treatment consisted of:
• 16 self administered stem cell injections
• 5 hour stem cell harvest
• 3 months of chemo (intravenous and tablet forms of medication)
• 1 PICC line
• 2 platelet transfusions
• 4 units of blood
• Lost my hair… again!
• Neutropenia, and far too many hospital stays that I’m willing to vouch too.

May 2014
After being knocked for six a long road was ahead of me to get back to fighting shape. To eat well, gain weight and recover all the muscle I had lost wasn’t my only concern. As the months went on I invested in numerous rehab sessions, chiropractic sessions, hours in the gym and being a sole trader, business planning. Starting small and working my way up has always been the key to my success, so that is how I approached it.

November 2014
With good results from my MRI check up, my Radiologist arranged for me to see an Occupational Therapist to put me through my paces to enable me to return to the job I love. Having passed with flying colours I was signed off to return to work and easy climbing.

I was nervous on how I would cope, being so active and using my skills again, but it was like I never had a day off. It was great to be back to reality.

February 2015
After yet another check up scan we went to see my Radiologist for the results. As my appointment commenced we discussed what I had being up to in regards to returning to work and how I was feeling. I complained about a slight neck muscle issue that I didn’t think was anything out of the ordinary as I had being off the tools for 18 months.

This was a concern to him. As he read my scans it was all unexpected bad news. The Grade 3 Infiltrating Astrocytoma that was growing on my left frontal lobe has started misbehaving and re-growing. The Grade 3 Posterior Fossa Ependynoma had started to grow a smaller mass lower in my neck. A huge change, as 3 months ago it was a black hole due to possible radiation damage. All future plans and prospects have now been halted.

With further radiation treatment completely off the cards and future surgery hesitant a second round of chemotherapy is now in the planning.

March 2015
The one thing I have learnt the most is patience. Also how loved ones, family and climbing friends throughout Australia and abroad can have an effect on you, both in a positive and negative way. We find out who our true friends really are, the others are just associates.

I take my hat off to all my Specialists, Nursing staff and everyone behind the scenes who have made this unpleasant situation more bearable; the special ones know whom they are.

From a quote I heard on “Inside the Outdoors”

I do not control what others think of me.
I do not control what happens to me.
I do not know which day will be my last.
To fear is natural, but my hero’s live by a different creed.
Never give up.
For there is only one thing in my power,
My effort.

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