A keen soccer player, at 17 Rhys Pagalday was a fearless competitor who as the striker for his team wouldn’t give a second thought at hitting the ball with force or falling to save a goal. One afternoon in November 2013, he had a fall, landed on his hip and was in pain that night. The next day the pain continued in his right hip. He went to his local GP, had an X-Ray and the doctor suggested he had growing pains. He had more than likely bruised himself and was instructed to have break from soccer for a couple of days. In March 2014 Rhys’s mum, Caroline, left for a two week holiday and by the time she returned, Rhys’s hip was protruding and he was in agony.
Another visit to the doctor resulted in an urgent CT scan and a substantial mass was found in his right hip. It was Ewing Sarcoma, a rare but one of the more common cancers in teenagers and young adults. Dr Vivek Bhadri developed a treatment plan; six months of the most intensive chemotherapy, followed by massive reconstructive surgery and more chemo.
“I would have chemo for 4 days straight, be basically bedridden for the next and then try and get to school for the final week before chemo would start again”. Rhys was diagnosed just before he commenced his HSC so he was also trying to complete Year 12.
“The six months of intensive chemo was by far the worst element of my treatment”. “I vomited a lot, I felt nauseous, I lost my hair, I even went five days without eating a thing.”
Rhys missed his mates, school and sport but was determined to attend his school formal. After surgery Rhys couldn’t walk for weeks. Mum, Caroline says; “I didn’t think he would make his formal but he was determined. A week before, I burst into tears when Rhys was given the ok finally to walk with crutches. Seeing him walking down the hall of the hospital ward by himself after 6 weeks of being bedridden in hospital was like seeing him take his first steps all over again! ” “I am so proud of him.”
With a big family of three sisters, Rhys had plenty of care at home but he loved the facilities at Lifehouse. “As a teenager, being able to have your own room, away from all the old men and their associated noise…”
On how cancer changed him; “All my mates shaved their heads to support me, we were good friends before chemo but the cancer made us bond quickly, now we know we will be mates for life.”
“And having chemo made me think about travel, it made me want to explore the world and see what is out there.”
Rhys’s life has also been enriched with the chance meeting of Kailem, a year younger and more recently diagnosed. In a startling coincidence, not only do they have the same rare cancer, they share the same birthday. “It was really awesome to be able to see another young bloke in the room. It made me feel less alone.”
“Because I was further down my treatment plan, seeing Kailem gave me some perspective and showed me how far I had come. I would watch him and know exactly what he was thinking and where he was at. It made me feel like I was through the hard part but I really felt for him and what he was about to go through.”
Rhys provided Kailem with support, “I told him what to expect and made sure he knew you get through it.”
When asked what advice he has for others just diagnosed, “Don’t think about what you’re going through, look ahead at what you’re going to do- the school formal, schoolies, soccer-whatever.”