Vale Dr Neil Buchanan

(1954 - 2015)

Dr Margaret Buchanan (née Mossop) wrote this memorial of her university companion and husband.

Last time we gathered was 2006. Neil was working for SARDI, mainly in bio security.

By 2008, he was applying for PhD positions around Adelaide. When we went to Bahrain in 1995, the alternative had been a PhD at UWA. Anyway, in early 2009 he secured a scholarship from SA Local Governments Association (SALGA) and began a PhD in wastewater management at Flinders Uni.

He was comparing the effectiveness of two sewage pond systems - the classical three pond system against a much smaller high rate pond that utilised a paddle wheel to mix the crap and speed up the breakdown of nutrients by algae. He was quite literally as “happy as a pig in mud”.

In 2011, and in the first throes of writing up his thesis he developed pain in the lower reaches of his biceps femoris. Long story short, he had a angiosarcoma removed from his leg along with a fair proportion of the muscle. This was a setback and entailed 6-8 months of rest and physiotherapy. Scans revealed no evidence of local spread or metastasis. Prognosis was pretty good so we opted for no treatment, which would have been quite damaging to the rest of the muscles in the leg. He purchased an electric bicycle so he could continue riding the 15 km to Uni every day. Ongoing scans and X-rays were negative. Life was settling down again.

The final crisis was slow in onset - loss of cardiovascular fitness that was fobbed off by medicos as old age setting in - no signs of heart disease. Again, long story short, he was eventually diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma (unrelated to the angiosarcoma) with secondaries in liver and lungs but no primary source. He was given 3-12 months’ life expectancy.

At this point he had just submitted his PhD thesis and was going places! This time we decided to do chemo, which would extend his life beyond the 3-month minimum but would not be curative. Scans at 3 months into chemo indicated that the lung and liver lesions were controlled and perhaps somewhat lessened but also revealed brain lesions. However, the radiation therapy he then endured, I feel in hindsight was not worth the anguish.

Neil died 6 months later, at home in Adelaide, surrounded by his family.

Neil’s PhD thesis convinced the SALGA that high rate ponds were a more time and space efficient and processed the water to a cleaner quality than the classical ponds. Twelve months ago, high rate ponds were approved and recommended for use by local SA councils.

At Neil’s memorial service a Buddhist friend’s words of consolation were that Neil had achieved enough and it was now time for him to move onto the next stage in his life.

Gone but not forgotten.