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August 7, 2023

‘Just want this feeling to stop’: Harry’s shock diagnosis after ‘fainting’ at work

Filed under: Fitness — Tags: — admin @ 10:08 pm

Harry Malcolm woke to the taste of blood in his mouth, his body heavy with an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.

It was October 2021 when Malcolm collapsed at work. A hospital visit deemed he had fainted and was sent home. Hours later he suffered two more episodes. For the past 18 months he’s lived with a rare brain tumour that has changed his approach to life.

“I’d just had smoko with my brother and walked off, about to do a job, and then collapsed,” he told 9Honey Coach of the first time he suffered a seizure episode.

When he came to, his shoulders were dislocated, he had bitten his tongue and he was developing a black eye. He also felt oddly seasick. It felt unlikely he’d just fainted.

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Harry Malcolm taking a selfie in hospital.
After Harry collapsed at work in 2021, a series of events led to a shock brain tumour diagnosis. (Supplied)

“They called an ambulance, they were very good to me. They were all very slow, you know, assessing me, getting me on the bed and then taking me to the local hospital,” Malcolm told 9Honey Coach.

“Actually, thankfully, I was wearing a Garmin watch at the time and it actually recorded my heart rate. I’d just finished smoko so it was quite low, 58 or 60, around that. But then it spiked up to 140 in 0.2 seconds, something ridiculous.”

At hospital, Malcolm was assessed and told it was likely he fainted. He was sent home on the advice he come back in for a CT scan, just to be safe. He agreed.

“I was wearing a Garmin watch at the time and it actually recorded my heart rate … it spiked up to 140 in 0.2 seconds.”

“I said, ‘I’ll come back either tomorrow or next week for a CT scan to reassess’, and then I went home. Then in my head stubbornly, I thought, ‘OK, great, I’d just had a bit of a fall today. We’ll reassess in a couple of days, or tomorrow and that will be that’,” he said.

“But the seizures kept coming that night and we had to go to a different hospital to assess deeply what the scenario was.”

As he waited to be assessed by medical staff in the emergency department at Campbelltown hospital, Malcolm mulled over whether his symptoms were the result of an epilepsy diagnosis. Though, such a thought was fleeting.

“I was just thinking, I just want to make this feeling stop… I just want to stop shaking and stop feeling sort of seasick,” the now 23-year-old said.

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Harry Malcolm with his older sister Hollie.
Harry Malcolm is pictured here with his older sister Hollie. (Supplied)

Then, while in emergency, he had another seizure. It was his third in 12 hours.

”My mindset at the time was ‘I just don’t know what’s happening. I just don’t know what this is’,” he said.

After being admitted to hospital overnight, Malcolm underwent a series of tests on his brain and a scan for his shoulders.

The brain scan revealed a grey mass. More tests were needed. He was prescribed anti-seizure medication and sent home to await the test results.

“I think two weeks afterwards I had to have surgery because they knew that this had to be removed,” he said.

The mass, the size of a golf ball, was tested. Malcolm was told he had a rare malignant brain tumour. He approached the news with a “child’s sense of adventure”.

“I approached the whole experience as a rare opportunity and maybe a bit of adventure. Maybe a, I know it sounds weird, but maybe an opportunity to test my character,” he said.

“I get that this is going to be a rough road, but it’s not a road you cruise, so we may as well tackle it as an adventure. And every nurse I speak to, every specialist, I want to absorb as much knowledge as I can and just treat it as an opportunity to learn, discover more about myself and then also observe how other ones around me react.”

He said his approach has helped “take it all in” but not surface the “doom and gloom”. While his surgery to most remove the tumour was successful, a small section remains.

Harry underwent more than six months of radiation therapy as part of his cancer treatment. (Supplied)

This isn’t to say he has not faced difficult days. He was told surgery to remove the tumour carried the risk of 50 per cent paralysis on the right side of the body, either temporarily or permanently.

“I was trying to not go there. I guess I was just taking it minute by minute in terms of each step,” he said of the lead-up to the surgery.

“So I remember being in the, I guess, in that room just before surgery, I was very talkative and trying to distract myself to the nurses around me and to the surgeons coming in.

“The process didn’t kick in until I woke up. Thankfully I could feel my toes and hands.”

After surgery he began to learn to walk again in the hospital’s head trauma unit. It was during this relearning process that the reality of Malcolm’s situation sunk in.

“I think I had the realisation then that I was sick. Being surrounded by a lot of sick people … being in there, I was like ‘Yeah, this is overwhelming’ and I’m a part of that overwhelming factor environment,” he said.

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As well as undergoing treatment for his rare cancer diagnosis, Harry also underwent surgery on his shoulder. (Supplied)

“That’s when, I guess, it sort of kicked in really, you know the shock.”

Since his brain surgery, Malcolm had six and a half weeks of radiation to break down and lay dormant the remaining tumour tissue. He’s also had surgery on one of his shoulders.

“The left one popped out and the right one fractured because I feel on it,” he explained.

“But they are also old rugby injuries as well. But speaking to the neurosurgeon at the time, he said, ‘you know seizures can be so powerful, your body forms so much energy’.

“He said ‘you’re not the only case that this happens to and both shoulders is more unlucky, but it does happen more and more common than not’.”

“Not many people have the privilege to travel to get treatment or can move to get treatment. So I’m very lucky to be in the place I am now.”

Malcolm was living in the Southern Highlands in New South Wales during the time of his initial cancer diagnosis. He travelled the almost two hour trip to Sydney for treatment.

“My goal at that stage was to move to Sydney one day, which I did complete which is great. I’m close now to treatment which is perfect,” he said.

“But again, it came with the reminder that not many people have the privilege to travel to get treatment or can move to get treatment. So I’m very lucky to be in the place I am now.”

Harry ringing the hospital bell after completing his treatment. (Supplied)

To show his gratitude, this August Malcolm is taking part in ‘Go The Distance’, aiming to run 310 kilometres to raise funds for Chris O’Brien LifeHouse. You can support him here.

These days the budding actor remains on a surveillance period where every three months he undergoes an MRI to assess his health. He’s back working and is taking it slow with exercising.

“I just had the reminder today, actually, that it’s been 18 months since commencing radiation which is a big, big milestone,” he said.

“It’s a big milestone but also a funny reminder that it’s quite early days still, in terms of cancer growth, and especially with this sort of (cancer) that I have. It’s still quite young… but at the moment it’s just three months at a time.”

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