My story began in May 2009, I had a small lump under my jaw bone and I went to my GP to check it out. After eliminating all obvious things he arranged for me to see a specialist in Galway.
On the day of the appointment there was no sign of the lump and I was thinking of not going. My doctor, a wiser man than I, said I should go and as they say, the rest is history.
My appointment at UCG was with Professor Keogh. He sent me for a PET scan followed by surgery. The result was secondary cancer. This was followed up by the removal of an offending tonsil which was the primary source.
I remember the day of the diagnosis, it felt like a death sentence. The word “cancer” to me, in my ignorance, suggested the end of my life. When I heard the word the blood drained from me and I turned as white as a sheet. Professor Keogh asked me if I had any questions and I couldn’t think of one, I was in such a state of shock.
The diagnosis is the hardest part to deal with, you think you’ve been cast as the lead actor in a disaster movie, your emotions take a dive and “poor me” takes a front seat. You feel sorry for your self and start to ask “why me” ? The problem is that you don’t look or feel ill. What makes you look and feel ill is the treatment you are given to save your life.
The chemotherapy and radiotherapy in themselves do no hurt, apart from the connecting tubs into you veins etc. The effect of the treatment comes gradually, with tiredness you’ve never known and in my case the loss of appetite and hair (the little I had)
When it came to the radiotherapy I was most fortunate to have Dr. Martin. When sorting out my treatment I mentioned that I was a folksinger and he kindly set the treatment to avoid my voice box. As a result my voice was saved.
During my treatment I had to have a PEG inserted into my stomach in case I was unable to eat due to radiotherapy. As it happened my throat was okay and I was able to “enjoy” my food supplements that kept me alive. Whilst having radiotherapy I was lucky enough to stay at Inis Aoibhinn, in the ground of the hospital, where the staff could not have been more caring. The staff gave every one the lift their spirits needed. I might add that all the patients supported each other. We were all in the same boat. I’ve been back to play a music night and must go again soon. Trying to repay some of the kindness.
I digress. Once you’ve been diagnosed you sort of go with the flow. There’s little you can do to change things, so you just have to sit back and stay positive and look forward to the end of your treatment. I must say I remember the last day of treatment and the drive back home from Galway with my wife playing the role of chauffeur, it felt like the best day of my life.
Once your treatment is over you have to concentrate on your recovery. It’s not until you get home that you get the chance to take stock. Until you get home you are always in the hands of others and decisions are taken for you. Although you will need loved ones to help you, there is an amount of negotiating you can do to help you on your journey to good health. I had it in my mind that I would have the treatment and return to the way I was before, unfortunately its not that simple. Depending on your treatment it can take a long time to recover. I found that recovery takes place in stages. My treatment affected my taste and because my saliva was depleted my food consumption and enjoyment was greatly reduced. Now my illness is in the past, the amount of food consumed is a lot less than it was. I have to be more selective in what I choose to eat. I am a stone lighter than I was before my illness. I am now the right weight for my height. There has to be a good side to all this.
Although I am often short of energy I still manage to play music from time to time. One has to stay positive and look forward rather than back.