He has been a practising medical oncologist and clinical haematologist in the Ballarat community since 1992. Prior to making the switch to adult Medical Oncology and Clinical Haematology, George was a Paediatric Haematologist and Oncologist at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne where he headed the Cancer Research Unit.
Last week, I was invited by Kate Wyatt, practice manager, Ballarat Oncology and Haematology, to speak to a group of surgeons, doctors, anaesthetists, nurses, and suppliers. It was most agreeable evening and provided an opportunity for a group of busy medicos to catch-up.
I went, not as a theatrical practitioner, but as a patient of the practice. You would be surprised how much humour can be found in oncological treatment.
I came to meet Professor Kannourakis when Dr Rimas Liubinas – who is my GP – discovered, following a routine blood test, a haemoglobin anomaly which, in his opinion, required a specialist review. When Rimas suggested George Kannourakis, I asked: “Is he any good?” Without a moment of hesitation Rimas said: “He is one of the best.” He was right. He is.
It seems, I, like thousands of others, suffer from polycythaemia rubra vera; a blood condition which George says I shall die with, rather than from. In layman’s terms – it is a thickening of the blood which needs constant reviewing and regular blood tests. Also, I need regular vene sections – a procedure which draws-off a bag of blood – usually about 400-mls, and which happens in the Ballarat Oncology and Haematology centre in Howitt Street. I am cared for by four nurses: Debbie, Nola, Jo, and Maxine – all of whom have wonderful senses of humour.
The procedure is not something to which I look forward to with any enthusiasm, but it is made more agreeable by Skeeta’s strawberry milkshake and sandwiches, which are, for me, a real treat! I have even been known to ask for a second milkshake.
I have led the healthiest of lives. I have never tasted Coca Cola; never had a hamburger or any fast food from the well know providers. Only once have I been seriously intoxicated. I was so ill; I have never done it again. For the most part, I don’t drink. I had a glass of champagne last Christmas. Does that count? I had a serving of Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1969. I cook and eat the best food. These days I am less inclined to eat meat. My diet includes fruit, vegetables, pulses, legumes – all the ingredients which nutritionists recommend as the basis of a healthy diet.
There is no reason for me to be anything other than hale and hearty; a picture of health. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that.
The revelation that I have what is sometimes called a chronic, but not serious, form of blood cancer, came as a great surprise, and left me somewhat bewildered. How could it be? As we all know, not always is there a rhyme or reason for these things. It is just the way it is: and who knows: my childhood was spent in the goldfields of Western Australia. I was exposed to a litany of dangerous pollutants – including cyanide, sulphuric acid, and God only knows what else. The enormous slag heap, or the slimes as we called them were the size of half-a-dozen football ovals and rose six feet into the air. They were a solid, sun-baked, toxic cocktail on which we skated, naked. We splashed around in the water and chemical run-off from the smelting plant. The towering chimney stack of the Sons of Gwalia mine belched smoke into the air 24-hours a day, seven days of the week.
I have been extremely well cared for in Ballarat. Curiously, since my arrival, I have required several medical procedures, including a hernia operation which was carried-out by Bruce Stewart, and anaesthetists Dr. Doug Paxton and Dr. Ross Phillips. It is curious thing: I am a gypsy at heart.
I have never wanted to stay in one place for too long. For me, there is a big, wide world out there with much to explore and discover; however, even though I have been here for ten-years, I have taken the decision to stay permanently.
That does not mean I will stop working, just that Ballarat will be my base. I shall depart and return on a regular basis. Since the condition I have is not going to disappear, it seems foolish to move-on and have to find another Rimas Liubinas, another George Kannourakis, and another Dr Prashanth Prithviraj – the second oncologist who takes care of me.
I have learned, during my time in Ballarat, exactly how expertly the city is medically served. It seems to me some of the best people in Australia are based here. I have lived in all parts of the world, and there have been occasions when I required medical assistance. Despite the occasional glitch, Ballarat is up there with the best of them. With practitioners like Rimas Liubinas and George Kannourakis, and all the others, plus two brilliant hospitals, patients in Ballarat have every reason to be thankful for the available services. I know I am! Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.