Ben Bravery was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2011 and underwent 18 months of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. Throughout Ben’s difficult experience in overcoming the disease, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the human side in healthcare was missing. It was this feeling, that soon turned into the realisation that he wanted to become a doctor.
From busy professional life
Ben recalls his life before cancer.
He was in his late 20s, had a successful business in China, was working with pandas as a zoologist, and had just met the love of his life.
But life as he knew it would soon be turned upside down.
For months, Ben had been experiencing bowel pain, weight loss, constipation, and bleeding which he thought was just haemorrhoids.
It wasn’t until he put his busy life on pause while visiting family in Australia that he opened up about his symptoms. His mum begged him to get a colonoscopy.
Ben thought his mum was just being overly anxious but went along with the colonoscopy anyway. And he’d soon be grateful for her cautiousness, as a large tumour was found in his sigmoid colon.
He was told that the tumour could be removed, and he could return to his life back in China, which was the news he wanted to hear.
“I was very optimistic” he says, “when it’s caught early you can cure it”.
But then a neighbour overheard Ben’s mum talking about his situation and encouraged Ben to get a second opinion.
Ben didn’t really want to get a second opinion. He wanted to believe the first doctor’s prognosis and get back to the busy life he had before.
This turned out to be a gamechanger. The second doctor was more cautious and noticed that the tumour was much more complex than originally thought. It wasn’t the news Ben wanted to hear, but it turned out to be crucial in saving his life.
To just staying alive
Being diagnosed with bowel cancer stopped Ben’s busy lifestyle in its tracks. Ben had questions. He called Cancer Council on 13 11 20 and was able to share his fears and concerns with others through Cancer Council’s Online Community.
“Cancer is an umbrella that can bring people together. It doesn’t need to be the same cancer to connect” he says, “a lot of those things I was thinking and feeling, were being felt by other people.”
Ben felt comforted to know that there were others out there that not only shared his experience, but also had the same fears and worries.
“Cancer treatment almost becomes your life” he says, “my whole life became cancer and staying alive”, a feeling that he continued to discover was shared by others.
In Ben’s experience, the mental side of completing treatment took much longer than the physical side. Gradually, his values shifted and he recognised that he wouldn’t be going back to his old busy life.
It was at this time that Ben knew that he wanted to make a difference. That he wanted to become a doctor.
To becoming the Patient Doctor
It’s now been 11 years since that first colonoscopy, and four years since medical school.
Ben is now a doctor, and although his path was initially headed for oncology, Ben chose psychiatry to work with patients.
Through his work, Ben hopes to not only help others throughout their experience, but also change the system to improve the way it treats patients and cancer patients.
“You can have all the technical knowledge in the world, but how you look at someone, how you address them, and their family is important” Ben says.
“We know that kindness is therapeutic” Ben says, “so now I’m trying to work on how we can make that change, help doctors and nurses be compassionate.”
If you have any questions, concerns or want more information about cancer, please contact our support line on 13 11 20. If you’d like to discuss your experiences with other people and connect with others at a time convenient for you, please visit Cancer Council’s Online Community.