I’d just finished battling stage three cancer. Then, COVID-19 hit

Last September, Simon Jarosz was diagnosed with cancer, a rare junctional tumour of the worst kind. He survived a gruelling treatment plan, and had just come out the other side when COVID-19 hit. And suddenly, just like his stomach, the industry was cut away at.

Can we have your liver?

Having someone express an interest in removing your organs while you’re ‘still using them’ may sound comedically surreal, like something from a Monty Python sketch. But it was the reality I had to face.

Pre-COVID-19, in September last year, after literally just a few months of symptoms and a referral from my GP, I was diagnosed with cancer. A rare junctional tumour of the worst possible kind had grown 8cm in length from my oesophagus, down into my stomach. It was the kind that spreads like wildfire.

“You’re losing half your stomach and oesophagus”

After diagnosis, what followed was a week in hospital filled with further tests, scans and exploratory surgery to better understand the rate the cancer had spread.

Simon in hospital. Photo: Supplied

Was I terminal or treatable?

“So, we think you’ll live, but there’s a minefield of treatment you need to get through”

After the longest week of my life making plans, writing my bucket list, and arranging for my ashes to be scattered in Scotland, I was given the diagnosis of stage three cancer and a treatment program that would put me through hell and back.

It was overwhelming. Thinking back now, as I write this, I still can’t believe the journey I’ve been on and the strength of support I’ve had from family and friends. I listened intently as a plan of chemotherapy and surgery was explained, along with the risks of actually dying from the treatment, and the less than 40% success rate I was facing.

This was going to be the biggest fight of my life, for my life.

Within weeks of diagnosis, I was starting chemotherapy on four times the dosage given to regular patients, and twice as often. I had all the symptoms I might experience explained to me, from nausea to nerve damage and even heart failure.

I was asked to sign that I understood the risks and told to hold on, as some of the most powerful drugs were pumped into me.

Following two months of chemo and days before Christmas last year, I went into theatre for a nine-hour operation that involved my lungs being collapsed, two major insertions into my chest and back, over 50 lymph nodes removed along with half my stomach and oesophagus.

I awoke to find my hands tied to the bed, a tube down my throat breathing for me, one up my nose draining my stomach and over 50 internal and external stitches.

But I’d made it

After surgery, I had six weeks to recover before going straight back into chemo for more of a battering.

Finally, in early March, after eight rounds of chemo and a total of ten procedures, I was given the all-clear.

And for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had gained some control over my own life.

Then COVID-19 landed.

After seven months of isolation and with no immune system, I was forced into further isolation, along with everyone else.

As the crisis unfolded, I watched how people reacted and followed their plans, when in reality, all we could do was sit tight and await further instructions, something all-too-familiar to me.

While we all self-quarantined and saw the damage COVID-19 was causing to lives and industries, the sense of being powerless hit everyone. It reminded me of the journey I’d been on with cancer and how I kept my focus on the end of treatment and being cured.

I never let any news or set-back change my focus. The absolute determination to reach that end goal kept me going.

Like my stomach, what’s left of our industry may have been drastically reduced in size, but to enable it to survive, it has to be filled with a positive, fighting, can-do attitude.

This is our industry, it’s up to us to make it what it is.

If there’s one thing this whole ordeal has taught me, it’s to not think ‘why me?’ and instead think ‘why not me?’

As in so many great comedies, I was the guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or was I the guy in the right place at the right time?

Simon Jarosz is a freelance ECD, and a cancer survivor


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.