The doctor whose treatment has kept actor Sam Neill alive since he was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer is the ex-partner of presenter Andrew O’Keefe.
Blood disease specialist Orly Lavee and the former host of Deal or No Deal and The Chase Australia shared a house during their relationship, which lasted a few years.
The hematologist and mother of two children were prominently featured in Monday evening’s episode of Australian story which detailed Neill’s battle with stage three blood cancer.
The doctor treating Sam Neill for a rare form of blood cancer is the ex-partner of presenter Andrew O’Keefe. Blood disease specialist Orly Lavee and the former Deal Or No Deal presenter were in a relationship for a few years
Dr. Lavee (above) works at Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst and has been caring for Neill since she diagnosed him with an aggressive form of lymphoma last year
Dr. Lavee works at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney’s Darlinghurst and has been caring for the Jurassic Park star since she diagnosed him with an aggressive form of lymphoma last year.
Neill dedicated his recent memoir Did I Ever Tell You This? – written while he was being treated for the cancer – to Dr. Lavee and “all my friends at St. Vincent’s.”
“I wouldn’t have started this book without you,” he wrote. “And I certainly never would have finished it.”
The 76-year-old told Australian Story chemotherapy had not worked, leaving him in a “fight for life” that he hoped to win but was not afraid to lose.
Over the past year, his body successfully fought angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma with an experimental drug prescribed by Dr. Lavee.
Despite that promising treatment, Neill said he was told the drug would one day stop working and he was prepared for that eventuality.
Jurassic Park star Neill has released his recent memoir Did I Ever Tell You This? – written while being treated for cancer – to Dr. Lavee and ‘all my friends in St. Vincent’s’
Neill told Australian Story he was not afraid of dying. ‘That doesn’t worry me. I never worried about it from the beginning,” the 76-year-old said. He is pictured with son Tim Neill-Harrow
“I’m not afraid of dying in any way,” he said. ‘That doesn’t worry me. I never worried about that from the start, but it would irritate me.
‘I would be annoyed because there are things I still want to do. Very annoying, dying. But I’m not afraid of it.’
Neill discovered he had cancer on his first trip back to New Zealand after Covid-19 lockdowns made it virtually impossible to return home to see his family for two years.
Dr. Lavee had called Neill with the bad news just two hours after his return.
“It’s always a difficult conversation, especially when you’re not face to face with someone,” she told the ABC program.
‘What we found was cancer, a particularly rare form of lymphoma, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but it is quite rare and it is a quite aggressive tumor that, if left untreated, can cause major problems very quickly.’
Neill’s best-known international role was as Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park. He is pictured with Laura Dern who is Dr. Ellie Sattler stars in the 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg
Neill’s son Tim Neill-Harrow told Australian Story what happened next: “When he hung up the phone and we sat down, we had a little cry together.”
‘It was supposed to be a happy day. He couldn’t stay,” he said.
Neill said: ‘I was really fighting for my life. And everything was a new world and a rather alarming world.
‘I had three or four months of fairly conventional chemotherapy, which is brutal.’
After Neill’s first phase of chemotherapy, the cancer came back even worse, causing Dr. Lavee started looking for a new course of treatment.
“I was surprised,” she said. ‘I was clearly concerned, as was he, that his disease was behaving so aggressively.
“The tumor started to outsmart the drugs before we even got through the first regimen.”
“What we found was cancer, an extremely rare form of lymphoma, a non-Hodgkin type lymphoma,” said Dr. Lavee. ‘But it is quite rare and it is a quite aggressive tumor that, if not treated, can cause major problems very quickly.’
Dr. Lavee suggested trying a second line of treatment – “more new agents” – to which she said Neill quickly responded “brilliantly.”
“Some people choose not to undergo further treatment if they find the prior treatment quite rigorous,” Dr. Lavee said.
‘But he wanted to persevere and try something new. We had to figure out what the next step would be to save the day.”
Neill began writing the memoir that would become Did I Ever Tell You This? as an account of his life for his children and grandchildren while he was undergoing treatment.
“During that treatment he told me he had the idea to write a book,” Dr. Lavee said.
‘At the time, he was taking a lot of steroid medications as part of his treatment which gave him a lot of energy and kept him from sleeping particularly well, and he was burning the midnight oil writing chapters and chapters of this book at an incredible pace.
“I thought I’d probably have to taper off the steroids at some point.”
Neill (above) began writing the memoir that would become Did I Ever Tell You This? as an account of his life for his children and grandchildren while he was undergoing treatment
Fortunately, the new treatment regimen worked and Neill has been in remission for a year, but he knows that one day it won’t work anymore.
“I know I have it, but I’m not really interested in it,” he said of the cancer.
‘It’s out of my control. If you can’t control it, don’t go into it.’
Neill now receives an infusion every two weeks and will continue to do so for the rest of his life, or until the drug no longer works.
Dr. Lavee said that if Neill no longer responds to his current treatment, “we may have to think about a third-line option.”
“That’s a hard thing to carry day in and day out, waiting for that to happen,” she told Australian Story.