Franko was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil in 2012.
Franko Roberts is used to extreme pressure. As a mining executive he has worked underground, performed mine rescues and put himself into situations where most people wouldn’t be comfortable.
However, when he went for his first PET scan he was absolutely terrified. “I know I was crying because I just wanted somebody in there to talk to me,” he said.
His wife told him she wasn’t going to let him go through that again. “The next time she was there with me. I joked that she had a whole hour where she could talk, and I couldn’t say a thing. Hearing her voice, I just fell asleep. It was great.”
Franko was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil in 2012. He says: “I was used to wearing a tie every day. One morning when I was doing it up, I noticed a lump in my throat that hadn’t been there before.”
He stopped in to see his doctor on the way to work who sent him for a scan. After a biopsy Franko was called in to see his doctor on 23 December and was told he had a tumour, but they didn’t know what type. Franko says the uncertainty was terrifying.
“On the 23rd I knew I had cancer, but I had a break from then until 10 January where I didn’t know what I was dealing with. Because of all the needles in my neck - I was practically a pin cushion – the lump started to protrude out the side of my neck. It was the size of a golf ball.”
Franko and his family decided to keep the news to themselves until they knew what they were facing. The Roberts host a traditional get together for family and friends on Boxing Day which was difficult. “People saw me not drinking and taking it easy, but we didn’t let on why. I wanted to try and remain positive.”
Franko met surgeon Dr Richard Lewis on 10 January and was set on a course of aggressive treatment involving laser surgery, an intense bout of chemotherapy and a further round of chemoradiation (combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy).
The treatment involved coming to Hollywood Hospital in Perth on a Monday and being on a machine that delivers chemotherapy for 20 hours a day, with four hours off, until the following Sunday. Franko would get two weeks off and then he’d be back in on a Monday. He did 13 sessions of this. “It took it out of me, but I still remained positive because the surgeons, oncologists and nurses at Hollywood Hospital were incredible.”
He says: “Dr Lewis is a legend. He’s a country boy at heart and he made my journey through this cancer thing quite pleasurable, if you can say that about cancer. He gave me the confidence to fight through it.”
Then Franko met his medical oncologist, Dr Simon Troon. Dr Troon was incredibly supportive. “He would sit on the end of my bed and hold my hand. In those moments, it felt warm, it felt like there was a connection. He knew that I needed help and he was going to help me.”
Franko recalls some of his lowest moments: “I know I’m strong, but this thing really knocked me for six. There were moments when I was awake late at night in hospital, all alone and my body aching, listening to the loud whirring of the machines and able to hear the pain the other patients were in. A number of times I asked, ‘why me?’ But then I’d say to myself, ‘because it’s me. There is no why me. Get over it Roberts.’ And I’d take comfort in hearing the nurses’ footsteps and their lovely voices or appreciate the catering staff and the food they brought me. They made me feel special, they made me feel they had me, they were there to help.”
Above all Franko took his support from his family. “I’m lucky I’ve got the most supportive network ever. I’ve got the most fantastic wife who never doubted me getting through it and two beautiful boys. They are my reason for making it through.”
Franko’s wife reminded him that these days, cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. At that point he made a conscious decision to surround himself with people who were going to help him.
His employer GBF made sure he didn’t have to worry about anything apart from getting better. “My manager was just wonderful.” One day he was sitting at home watching his sons play outside when his boss turned up. Franko watched in amazement as his rugby hero Nathan Sharp jumped out of the car and said: “I heard you were a bit crook, so I thought I’d stop by and say hello.”
“These are the little things they do as a company that makes it easier for me to do what I do,” says Franko.
Throughout this gruelling treatment, Dr Troon encouraged Franko to take control of his wellness. “He’d say – Franko, I want you to walk. Get out of bed and walk around. Don’t sit around.”
So, Franko would get up in the morning and walk. He’d wander around the hospital in his boxers, trailing the chemotherapy drip he was hooked up to behind him. “I’d say hello to everybody. I’d people-watch. I hate milk and I don’t like bananas. But the only thing I could eat or drink, the only thing I could taste, was banana milk. So, I’d walk down to get my banana milk and go for a wander.”
Next was 30 sessions of chemoradiation. “By the end of that I was spent. I never want to have to go through that again.”
Franko thought having cancer might change his perspective, but he says: “My priority has always been my family. Having cancer didn’t change that. I love my family and I love my job.”
Now Franko is really good. “Life’s good. But if there is any way I can help with cancer, I will. My life’s mission now is to help.”
Thank you Franko for sharing your story.
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