Damien Thompson has been battling leukemia for the last 10 years. Picture: Evan Morgan
Damien Thompson has been battling leukemia for the last 10 years. Picture: Evan Morgan

Young man’s 10-year battle to stay alive

Damien Thompson could feel the pain in his bones, but as an "invincible" 23-year-old working hard on his family's long-running Townsville business, thought nothing of it.

The pain became so unbearable he went to Townsville University Hospital's emergency room at 3am on a Sunday in 2009, and didn't leave after a shock diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

He underwent months of chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant in Brisbane, only to develop acute graft-versus-host disease, an irreversible condition that attacked his immune system and made his body reject his lungs.

Mr Thompson, now 33, has since endured a double-lung transplant, a double-hip replacement and a list of other major surgeries that he has "blocked" from his memory.

"It's been mentally exhausting … not many people understand, but it's an everyday battle," Mr Thompson said.

One of four brothers, Mr Thompson should today be helping his father Bob at the family's nearly four-decade old Bayswater Road Radiators business if not for cancer.

Instead he lives day-to-day, wondering when his donor lungs will eventually give out as he waits to be accepted into a stem cell trial at the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane.

"It's a continuous battle to try to maintain lung function."

His family and friends have rallied around him through the years, participating in the World's Greatest Shave as he battles the disease.

"It is a show of solidarity and that little act is a big boost to your morale," he said. "It is like they are joining your team and they are on your side fighting the good fight."

Twenty Australians lose their lives every day as blood cancer becomes one of the nation's most diagnosed and deadly killers.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch urged people to shave for a cure as part of the World's Greatest Shave.