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BITTERSWEET SYMPHONY

Dave Gillham's positive attitude, creative outlet and strong faith are three ingredients helping him and his family persevere through the greatest trial of their lives.

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Have you ever been down? Have you ever been down?
'Cause it's a bitter sweet symphony, this life. - Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve

Most days, Dave Gillham, 35, is up at 6 a.m. to prepare for work as an Educational Assistant at Metepenagiag School, where his wife, Lori Gillham is the principal. Mila, their rambunctious daughter, is three.

By 7 a.m., the family scrambles out of the house for the 30-minute drive to the school and the nearby daycare where they drop Mila off for the day.

After an exhausting day at work and occasional sleepless nights with Mila, the couple tend to their routine evening activities, preparing to do it again the next day.

 "DJ Dave from Down Under" is originally from Mornington Peninsula, Australia, south of Melbourne. On weekends, he fills dance floors at clubs where he performs his exquisite music mixes. His love for deejaying and his deftness for the art are widely recognized in the industry, where he's known as a top DJ in Canada.

Eventually Dave realized deejaying late into the night every weekend wasn't the most family-friendly activity, so he hung up his headphones and permanently packed up his gear.

Dave met Lori while she was teaching in Australia. They married and moved to Miramichi in 2008 before teaching in China for four years. Despite living in New Brunswick since 2012, it's clear when he speaks his origins are from a faraway land, yet Dave confessed, "I don't know why I'm still hanging on to the accent."

His positive attitude, creative energy and his faith in God have been instrumental in supporting Dave and his family through a completely new routine - wrapped up in the biggest trial they've ever had to face.

DIAGNOSIS

Other than experiencing an upset stomach, December 11, 2018 was a typical day for Dave. He'd had similar symptoms his doctor attributed to anxiety and PTSD related to a previous injury.

At work the pain worsened, radiating into his lower right abdomen. He tried to persevere but by bedtime it had not subsided. Rather than disturb Lori's sleep, Dave opted to sleep on the couch, hoping the discomfort would pass. Lori was at home on maternity leave, tending to their infant son, Ari.

The agony and nausea was relentless as Dave fidgeted to find a comfortable position on the couch.

They called an ambulance as this would allow time for Lori to arrange childcare for Mila and Ari while Dave was being rushed to Horizon's Miramichi Regional Hospital. Once there, medical staff quickly determined Dave needed an appendectomy.

Dr. Prabaharan Balasingham (Dr. Praba), operated and with Dave's permission, ordered additional scopes and scans because, as Dave remembered, the doctor had encountered "something like he hadn't seen before."

Perhaps it was the family history of cancer that helped prepare Dave for what was to come. In 2005, he watched his own mother succumb to the disease.

Dave7ThumbsUp

RESULTS AND REACTION

The results confirmed the medical team's suspicions. At a meeting with Oncologist Dr. Mohammad Harb at Horizon's The Moncton Hospital, Dave, still recovering from surgery, had the diagnosis confirmed. Rectal cancer, spread to the liver. Stage 4.

"To be honest, I told my wife I already knew--I wasn't in shock at all," Dave remembered. "Of course, I'm upset and I've had some down days since then."

Lori, understandably, was devastated.

"It was absolutely shocking," said Lori, who is trying to keep it all together for the family. "It was a relief to get some answers because he was battling so much pain … and we didn't know what it was."

Had it not been for the appendectomy, tests would not have been ordered and the cancer would have remained undetected.      

Dave1DrHarb

A ROLLER COASTER RIDE

Dave compares his patient journey through the health system with the ups and downs of a roller coaster ride.

"Modern medicine is amazing and my surgeons and doctors have all been great," he said, noting half the battle is the side effects of the chemo.

"I take the medicine, I trust the doctors and the advice I've been given and I will do what I have to do to beat this thing," he said.

Since the diagnosis, time moves forward, unaffected. Winter has ended and lackluster lawns slowly transform to lush green for their short summer splendour. Green signifies life. Dave's rare positive attitude about his own has, according to his Oncologist, Dr. Harb, a lot to do with how well he is responding to treatment, "definitely" improving his prognosis.

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A POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE

"He's quite wise, … because from the start he accepted the fact quickly, resulting in no delay in his treatment," said Dr. Harb. "We got to everything very quickly because he made his decision very quickly."

"His case was…much easier because he was on top of everything," said Dr. Harb. "His reaction was, 'I accept it; let's just do it.'"

For Dave, every day is a new day, some good; some bad but his disposition makes the bad days bearable and the good days better.

"The good days are enjoying my time with my wife and kids as much as I can and for the bads, I take it as it comes and try my best to deal with it," he said. "If I have a bad day, it is what it is and you look forward to the next day as a new day."

Dr. Tiffany Keenan of Miramichi agrees a positive mental attitude is one of the key influences that can improve one's prognosis. Being a full participant in one's own health care is also extremely important, empowering the patient.

"Dave's been interested in really understanding his disease fully," said Dr. Keenan. "What I like about him as a patient is he likes to question things and I think we need patients to do that more."

Dave2DrKeenan

A CREATIVE OUTLET

Dr. Keenan added that people with a creative outlet like Dave has can get by in some of the toughest situations.

"Essentially, I love music so it's a bit of an escape," said Dave, who still creates mixes from his computer at home for a program called "The Mixup" on Bathurst radio station Phantom-FM. "I enjoy the music and everything around me doesn't really matter anymore… I sort of go into my little music world."

Dave's Blog and the Many Adventures of Cancer was initially designed to keep his friends and family overseas informed of his health. It has since evolved into Dave candidly sharing his cancer journey, resulting in a following of over 30,000 readers.

"I feel it's my social obligation to be telling my story, which I'm happy to do," he said. "It's been helpful for people with family in similar circumstances to understand what they're going through."

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A STRONG FAITH

Growing up in Australia, Dave went to church every Sunday, his faith becoming real to him when he was 15 during his mum's sickness.

"I felt an overwhelming sense that everything was going to be OK one way or another," he said.

Today, he and his family attend The Point Church in Miramichi, where Dave was the sound engineer until his recent diagnosis.

"I do have a religious background, not that I'm trying to influence my religion onto anybody else," he said, modestly.

"Prayer is definitely something I fall back on," he said. His pastor, Kevin Matthews agrees, admitting Dave's acceptance of his life-threatening illness was "a little unusual."

"Like anybody he was devastated…but within a very short time, he had turned the page, promising that no matter what happens, 'I'm going to do my best, keep the faith and be strong for my wife and kids'," said Pastor Matthews. "His faith is very authentic, a very real relationship with God."

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EMP AND UPDATE

Dave continues to receive updates from his physicians about his condition and possible new treatments. He is responding well to chemo and just learned he is cleared for surgery to remove a tumour. Nurses from New Brunswick's Extra-Mural Program visit regularly.

Following an intense Easter weekend helping his basement tenants clean up from recent flooding, his visiting RN, Brenda Taylor, suspected he'd overdone it. A fever sent him to hospital for two weeks with C. difficile. Now that he's back home, they continue to monitor his progress and Dave carries on as co-conductor in his own life's bittersweet symphony.

Dave3EMPNurse

ADVICE

To keep it slanting toward the sweet side, Dave practices what he preaches. He prays, he writes, he mixes and he stays upbeat. He recognizes the reality of his situation, electing to focus not on what might happen tomorrow.

"Worrying about the 'what ifs' is a waste of time," said Dave.

And when life's symphony tilts to the bitter side, Dave will continue along, positively, creatively, faithfully in the 'todays' he has, modestly wishing to be remembered as "a nice guy who got cancer… nothing special about me."

If Dave could provide any advice it would be to men, who he says can put up a front when experiencing uncertain symptoms.

"I wouldn't hesitate seeking advice from any doctor, being totally upfront about what you're experiencing," adding there's no shame. "The sooner you can get on with a prognosis the better the chances are with cancer."

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