FIGHTER: Nathan Fleming (right), with his younger brother Josh, is looking ahead and learning how to live life with a titanium rod in his leg.
FIGHTER: Nathan Fleming (right), with his younger brother Josh, is looking ahead and learning how to live life with a titanium rod in his leg. Georgia Simpson

How a skateboard accident ultimately saved man's life

STARING down the barrel of a cancer diagnosis is one of the most confronting things Nathan Fleming has had to face.

The 35-year-old was diagnosed with osteo sarcoma, a cancer so rare that only 20 people in Australia are diagnosed annually.

Trying to 'relive his youth on a skateboard', Mr Fleming had a little accident, which resulted in a broken left foot and a few months in a moon boot.

It was then he started to notice pain in his right thigh, and after countless doctors' appointments, he was diagnosed with the disease in August 2018.

"The pain in my thigh was like a stabbing - like someone stabbing a steak knife into my leg and twisting it," he said.

He was diagnosed in Brisbane at the Princess Alexandria Hospital, and he said words failed him, as "what the eff?" went through his head.

"Three men in suits were huddled around a computer and when I walked in, they turned around and just looked at me.

"I thought, 'this doesn't look good'," he said.

Ten months of gruelling chemotherapy ensued, and although Mr Fleming acknowledges that not succumbing to the darkness was hard, the diagnosis also bought some reprieve.

 

Nate underwent 10 months of gruelling chemotherapy. This was taken on August 28, 2018.
Nate underwent 10 months of gruelling chemotherapy. This was taken on August 28, 2018. Contributed

"I knew at the start of the year that something wasn't right, and when I found out it was cancer, there was almost a small sigh of relief, as it wasn't something wrong inside my head."

The original plan was 10 months of intensive chemotherapy, combined with the removal of his right femur, that would be replaced with his shin bone, which was to be replaced with a donor bone.

However, new technology had evolved and Mr Fleming is the first person in the country to have a titanium rod in place of his right femur.

The operation was meant to be a four-hour affair, but it lasted seven.

The titanium rod was designed and built in Germany, something Mr Fleming was relatively pleased about as Germany's reputation for producing premium automobiles meant he was in safe hands.

 

SCARS: Nate had his right femur removed, and it's place is now a titanium rod which was designed and manufactured in Germany. He lost three litres of blood in the seven hour surgery, and required 40 stitches.
SCARS: Nate had his right femur removed, and it's place is now a titanium rod which was designed and manufactured in Germany. He lost three litres of blood in the seven hour surgery, and required 40 stitches. Contributed

The titanium rod arrived the morning of the surgery, and the measurements had to be precise - if they weren't and it didn't fit, Nathan would be faced with the prospect of losing his entire right leg, and he wouldn't know this until he woke up from the surgery.

"I was petrified the morning of the surgery," he said.

Mr Felming has been to hell and back, but his outlook on life is inspiring.

"I have literally been given a second chance at life, and not many people get that," he said.

The support of the community is what got him through his bleakest moments.

Mr Fleming said the one thing he wanted people to take away from his battle was how important it is to listen to your body.

"You know your body the best, so if you think something is not right, go back and get a second, third or fourth opinion," he said.

Mr Fleming describes himself as the person 'who would always jump off a roof into a pool', and he still has a long road ahead of him as he adjusts to life with his modified right leg.

In June, Mr Fleming had his first scan seven weeks after his last round of chemotherapy, and the feeling of elation at finding out he was 'clear' was incomparable to anything he had felt during the past year.

"There is no way I would have gotten through this without everyone's support. I can understand why people fall into that dark place, because they don't have that network."

 

Taken in May this year, Nate celebrates the end of a brutal 10 months of chemotherapy in true style - with an espresso martini.
Taken in May this year, Nate celebrates the end of a brutal 10 months of chemotherapy in true style - with an espresso martini. Contributed