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Every time I walk in the door, I feel that I am welcome

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Hamish Shallard was living a normal life as a family man and ultra marathon runner when it all changed for good in just six hours. It was November 2018. Hamish, a 52-year-old who lives in Auckland, suddenly had some serious urinary symptoms where he began peeing blood and was sent straight to the hospital Emergency Department. Later, Cancer Society services were to become vital.

Before his medical emergency, Hamish was fit and healthy and had just competed in a 79km running race around Mt Ruapehu called “Ring of Fire”. He was in a senior position in his job and raising three children, Max, Mila and Lexi, with partner of 23 years Tobi. Life was good.

After driving himself from the GP to the hospital, a set of scans and tests quickly showed all was not well for Hamish. Gentle prodding in the abdomen from the doctor caused massive amounts of pain and he was given morphine and lined up for an urgent CT scan. The scan revealed a large tumour in Hamish’s left kidney which had ruptured, causing the bleeding. It turned out to be one of the rarest cancers in the world.

“This was in one day. I went from the GP to the ED and a cancer diagnosis in six hours, and I had no signs of anything beforehand. I had to take a bit of time to try and get my head around that,” says Hamish, who was in shock. “I’m a very positive person and I just went right, that’s it, here we go. Let’s just get ready for this and do what we’ve got to do here.”

Telling partner Tobi was the next challenge for Hamish, who also needed to carefully consider how to break the bad news to his young children. He was determined that he was not going to give up.

Hamish and Tobi did some research on the Cancer Society of New Zealand website so that they would have some answers to their children’s questions. Hamish was also told that his tumour was 10cm long, located in his left kidney and defined as “chromophobe renal cell carcinoma”. He needed an operation to remove the kidney, leaving him with just one remaining kidney.

“Back then, four years ago, I was at Stage 2, but now it’s progressed to Stage 4. I was given a 90% success rate that the first surgery I had would work. Since then, I’ve had a few other surgeries as the cancer moves around the body,” says Hamish. “As I’m now Stage 4, I have to make the most of the time I’ve got. I’ve tried to make more time for my family, and I’ve kept on working. I want my life to be as fulfilled as it can be and to help other people at the same time.”

Cancer Society services made life easier for Hamish throughout his cancer journey.

“I found the counselling services with Cancer Society really positive. I’d rather talk to someone who’s completely independent, someone I could have a cry with when I’m feeling down, so that’s where I’ve found the Cancer Society fantastic. Every time I walk in the door, I feel that I am welcome, and it’s this amazing warmth that you can feel in the building. I walked out feeling lighter in dark times.”

Hamish says the Cancer Society has been there when he needed it, checking in with him post-diagnosis to give him information about all the support available.

“Don’t underestimate what the Cancer Society does for the community. Anything you can give to them is well received and well used. If you support the Cancer Society, you are supporting New Zealand.”

Hamish summarises his new outlook on life.

“I’m doing the best I can do. Every day is special really. I wake up every morning thinking of how I can have a great day.”