Identical twin brothers, Craig and Brenton Gurney, were inseparable as little boys and have remained very close into their adult lives. But these close bonds were tested when one of the pair battled an extremely rare form of cancer.
When Craig, 43, underwent treatment for a clival chordoma in 2011, a rare type of bone cancer that forms a brain tumour in the skull base, his twin Brenton was with him every step of the way.
Their story is the more extraordinary as it was Brenton who was concerned at first that he may have a brain tumour because of constant headaches. Brenton decided to join a twin research study which involved undertaking a brain MRI and he asked Craig to come along too as twin pairs were needed for the study.
The results showed the all-clear for Brenton but, shockingly, led to the discovery of a tumour at the base of Craig’s skull. According to Brenton, his first thought was “it should have been me”.
“I was the one having headaches. I was the one who needed the MRI, not Craig,” he says.
But as fate would have it, Brenton’s headaches and determination to seek out the brain MRI probably saved Craig’s life.
Craig underwent a complex ten-and-half-hour operation at Sydney’s Westmead Private Hospital to remove a nearly five centimetre tumour.
“It was a tough time for Craig and his, and our extended, families,” says Brenton. “The surgery was so difficult, delicate and still relatively new that we were uncertain if Craig would survive it.”
The twin brothers have always been close and Craig’s illness has brought them even closer.
“We were like peas in a pod when we were growing up,” says Craig. “We liked the same food, sports, clothes, interests, even the same girls!
Twins and Research
According to the twins, Craig’s illness has reinforced to them the importance of giving back to the community.
“I found out about my tumour when I was volunteering with Twins Research Australia,” Craig explains. “I thought I was participating in a research study as a way of helping others but, as it turned out, it probably saved my life.”
“As twins, we have something special that we can use to help others. You could potentially save a life – and it may be your own – by becoming involved,” says Craig.
“I’ve learnt that when you have a chance to make a difference, you should take it as it doesn’t come around very often in your life.”