Being diagnosed with a cancer is literally an unforgettable event in ones life. In my story, this event occurred not once but twice, although by the second diagnosis, my sense of shock was not as numbing, as I was by then better informed about the effects of cancer through my association with LARCC.
I was the first of my extended family to be diagnosed with cancer back in 1998 and, it’s true to recall that nobody seemed to know what to do or to say at the time (me, included)! There was an unspoken acceptance that I was in deep trouble, and this was reflected in the many hushed phone calls received from family and friends and relations, Masses said and some odd encouragements offered. And all this before my medical treatment even began! This consisted of a neck dissection for the removal of the cancerous glands and the subsequent radiotherapy treatments to destroy any remaining cells. At this time, my entire focus, and that of the wonderful medical team in Beaumont ENT Department, was on the physical side of the operation and treatment. In the whirlwind of hospital tests, scans, biopsies, x-rays, visitors calling, the lengthy operation and recovery and radiotherapy, I had no time to think about my future life outside this protective and caring environment. That focus was to change abruptly on my last day in the hospital when, in response to my question, the Senior Registrar said that I ‘would be lucky to last two years” (he was a straight talking Australian). As I absorbed this information, I thought to myself “At least that’s better than two months and an awful lot better than two weeks”. That comment rather concentrated my mind thereafter. My first reaction was to return to work within two weeks after the radiotherapy sessions ended. I wanted to show the world that I was back in action (this was too soon!). I also decided not to mention the ‘two years’ scenario to my family or friends. I had so many things to take care of (on my private bucket list) and wanted to do so unhindered by external inputs however well intentioned. In addition, there were two side effects from my treatment that were ongoing. One was the loss of taste (‘should be back in a year”) and the other, and harder to take initially, the almost total loss of saliva. Besides those physical side effects, there was one other important effect that nobody discussed with me at any time, and that was the psychological effect. Even so, there were solutions to this coming down the tracks, so to speak, in a manner that I could never have foreseen or imagined.
I went to Lourdes on the Defence Forces Pilgrimage in 1999, thanks to my ex Air Corps colleagues. I was somewhat sceptical but curiosity overcame this and my first experience there set the tone for my attitude to sickness that has remained with me ever since. I was humbled by what I saw and heard there. So many people were worse off than me; I felt their hope and saw the compassion of their carers. I was hooked. Those frequently repeated homily words: “he/she went to Lourdes to be cured and came back healed” has become a mantra for me since that fateful first pilgrimage. I will continue to visit Lourdes as long as my health permits.
Not long after this Lourdes trip, I accidentally met a fellow cancer patient who was traumatised by her cancer and sought (expensive) counselling in the UK. The outcome of her trip was to found a Cancer Care Centre here, along the UK Centre lines, but at a fraction of the cost to clients. This was a pioneering move for Ireland. That patient was Ita Bourke from Templemore, Co Tipperary, and she invited fellow cancer patients, Karen Daly and myself, to be the Centre’s Co- Founders. She named it LARCC in 2002 and it is based in the peaceful rural setting of Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath. Ita’s wish was to reach out to those recovering cancer patients who had little or no family or peer support in their lives, to avail of the psychological counselling and healing therapies that LARCC offers. Sadly, Ita died just before the official opening of LARCC by Brian Lenehan in late 2002, but her legacy lives on, as does my support of LARCC.
Having ‘got over’ my first cancer, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007. That was successfully treated with braccytherapy. That time round, I was psychologically better able to cope with my diagnosis, thanks to my family and friends and, also, my association with LARCC over the years and my interaction with the wonderful professional and supportive administrative staff there…… and also some clients!
Finally, as a mental exercise over the years, I have found that saying a little prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes is far better than brooding in the silence of the dark room of despair. It’s worth a try.read more stories