Michael Crotty – his battle with brain cancer
My Dad was many things to many people. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a father-in-law, a son, a brother, an uncle, a nephew, a godfather, a friend, a colleague, but mostly he was a teacher. Not just by trade, but by life. He taught for 40 years and it was his greatest passion. He was a mathematician. He loved teaching, and I don’t mean the day-to-day teaching, but the impact he could have on a child’s life (and often did). He taught me everything I know. He taught me how to treat people, how to be a good parent to my own children and how to enjoy life.
It’s so hard to sit here and describe my Dad. He was the man that gave you 100% of his attention. When he spoke to you, he really listened to you and made you feel like you were the only person in the room. He was smart. In all meanings of the word.
He was intelligent, from a life-time of academia. He had amazing common-sense and was completely logical. He was calm and factual and was the person that not only my family, but our friends, would go to for life advice.
He was kind. He didn’t have much growing up and he didn’t need much to be happy. I believe this is what made him generous. The most generous person I have ever met.
He was funny, witty, cheeky. He loved to be the centre of attention, in a good way and was so captivating when he spoke in public.
He loved sport. He loved to play sport, watch sport, talk about sport, read about sport, teach sport, bet on sport and listen to sport on his travel radio that was never far from his ear.
Mostly, he loved his family. His wife and four kids were his proudest achievement. He adored my mum, Debbie and was the perfect blend of friend and father to my 2 older sister, younger brother and I. His grandkids were his biggest supporters, with all of them often vying for his attention. Everything he did, all the hard work he put in, it was all for us.
He turned 65 on the 15th January 2020 and we took him out for breakfast to celebrate.
The next day, he was gardening when he felt something strange happen to his foot. He walked into his Warners Bay home and told my mum that his foot wouldn’t stop shaking. He made an appointment with his GP, had a CT scan shortly after and was advised that he had suffered a stroke and would need to see a neurologist. This appointment was made for the 12th February; the day after my 31st birthday.
Over the next 3 weeks Dad’s foot continued to shake and his leg became weaker and weaker. He was tired, having a nap each day, but he never wanted a fuss to be made over him and kept telling us he was fine. He was trying to wrap his head around the fact that he had had a stroke and thought this was part of the side effects.
His appointment with the neurologist saw him taken immediately to Lake Macquarie Private hospital for more tests. On Saturday 15th Feb Dad suffered his first major seizure in front of my mum and oldest sister. He didn’t convulse, but a silent seizure that terrified them as they watched my Dad disappear from the inside out. This was the day when we were finally told it was a brain tumour and Dad would require surgery and then further treatment. It took almost four weeks to diagnose Primary Diffuse large BCell lymphoma.
The next week was a blur of more tests, more horrific results, a move to Newcastle Private and surgery on the 20th Feb. The tumour was 2.5cm in diameter and was located in the left frontal lobe.
Following the surgery, Dad spent 4 days in ICU as he struggled to come out of the anaesthesia, was then hallucinating and having nightmares, followed by more seizures. The next week, as soon as his wound had healed enough, he was transferred to the Mater Hospital to start chemotherapy. He was under the care of the haematology team because of the diagnosis of lymphoma (which is a blood cancer) of the Central Nervous System, contained to the brain. Dad had no other cancer anywhere in his body.
The hardest part about Dad’s treatment, diagnosis and time in hospital is that he was never himself. The location of the tumours affected his personality, his sense of humour and his ‘Dad-ness’. He was always happy to see us and would chat to us about his day, his blood test results, his treatment, his latest puzzle or sudoku that he was trying to crack, but he wasn’t quite himself.
He always stayed positive and we never spoke about what could happen as a worst case scenario, because that wasn’t even on our radar.
Between March and June, Dad underwent four rounds of in-patient chemo. COVID heavily limited the time we could spend with him and the number of visitors he could have, which made things even more difficult for him and our family. During this time, he had to learn how to spell his name, read time, write and walk again. He did it all with grace and the staff were amazed at his determination.
Late May Dad finished treatment and was told he was responding very well to treatment. Throughout June his health improved dramatically and he was eating well, walking daily, gardening, reading &visiting family. We were all so happy and positive about his future.
On the 6th July he was at home when he got up to go to the bathroom and fell, most likely having suffered another seizure. He was very disorientated and mum called an ambulance. He spent 4 days back at The Mater and another MRI was done, with the biggest tumour measuring at 3cm.
Over the coming month, Dad spent time in Warners Bay with our family. He didn’t want to see anyone else, so spent his days with his grandkids, children and wife. We still were blissfully unaware that the end was coming.
During this time, we spoke about what treatment options he had, including an extremely high dose of chemotherapy (one of the highest to be administered in Australia), a trial from the US, further rounds of normal chemo, no treatment at all and what the next 6 months would look like.
On the 27th July, he went back to The Mater to start the next round of treatment, when a final MRI was done. The results were devastating. The tumour that was 2.5cm in July, had grown to 9cm. He had 5 major tumours scattered through all levels of his brain and multiple small lesions.
His team decided that treatment was no longer a viable option and Dad would be moved to Warners Bay palliative care, where we would have 24-48 hours with him.
I remember when my sister called me to tell me this. I was at the post office and had eagerly been awaiting news that Dad’s treatment had started. I felt my whole world stand still and like someone had punched me in the chest. I couldn’t believe that within a split second it was all over and everything he had been fighting for was gone.
We spent 6 traumatic days with him until he passed away on the 4th of August 2020.
We knew that many people would be affected by the passing of my Dad, but the support, messages of love and sympathy, flowers, cards and contact we received was overwhelming. We set up a GoFundme page that directly linked to the Mark Hughes Foundation.
Dad was a huge footy fan, a Dragons supporter and he always spoke so highly and with adoration of Mark and everything he had battled through. We knew this is exactly what he would have wanted. In lieu of flowers or gifts, we raised over $21,000 for the foundation, something that I know he would be very proud of.
I miss my Dad every single day. Lots of people do. Our family is still struggling with our loss, but we are so proud to support the MHF and hope with further funding and research this disease can be cured.
For the big fella, I love you.
Written by Dani (Michael's daughter)