from Frank Naughton
I was bringing my twin boys to school yesterday and getting my morning dose of Morning Ireland when I heard your piece on cancer and so I decided to drop you this email.
Ten years ago this month, I was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Multiple Myeloma, a blood cancer which can effect blood, bones, kidneys and heart.
This disease is normally found in males and females predominantly in there 60s; I was 27 years old when I was diagnosed, the youngest person in Europe at the time.
I presented at Nenagh General on a spinal board in the back of an ambulance. The radiographer thought I had been in a car crash when he looked at my x-rays. He was somewhat surprised when I told him all I did in fact was sneeze; the cancer had weakened my skeleton so much that I had broken my back and was unable to walk.
I was moved to Merlin Park hospital in Galway, where I'm from. I spent 2 weeks there lying on my back awaiting diagnosis. The doctors were stunned when they at last discovered what I had. They didn't even consider this disease in me because it was unheard of in a person of my age, but it was there and it had to be dealt with.
I was brought to UCHG where I stayed for a couple of months getting chemo and physio. I walked out of the hospital on Dec 23rd 1999 for Christmas on a zimmer frame.
I had 9 months of chemo and physio and when the chemo stopped working I had a stem cell transplant in Galway, one of the first to be performed there. At that stage I was on a pair of walking sticks. I got very ill after the transplant and it took me almost 2 years to recover to a decent standard.
I was working as an electrician before I got sick but I had trained as a classical singer for years so, with the bad injuries to my back, I decided I needed a job a little less strenuous. So I decided to concentrate on my singing career.
I joined the Galway Tenors in 2003 and also released my first album. I married my wife Elaine and 5 years ago we had our twin boys, Conor and Oisin. I now work all over Ireland singing weekly at weddings, and performing my own concerts, while all the time having treatment in UCHG.
While I got 8 good years from my transplant, the disease began to reactivate in August of 2009. My wife and I were devastated. I think I took the news worse the second time than I did the first. I felt a bit cheated because I thought I already beat this thing. Why do I have to go through another transplant!
I met with my consultant in Dublin and, in conjunction with my consultant in Galway, it was decided that I would take the new wonder drug named Revlamid, this drug has been in Ireland for the past 2 years and has proved really effective in treating Multiple Myeloma.
I am happy to say that for the past year I've been taking this drug, I've never been so well. Research in Cancer Blood Disorders has undergone a revolution in the past few years whereas before it felt to me we were a forgotten group. But no longer. Earlier this year I spoke at The Galway Multiple Myeloma Awareness week where the opinion was that a cure could be found in the next 5 to 10 years. Amazing progress for a disease that has only really come under the spotlight in recent years. Imagine all the other diseases that could be brought under more control if the money -- and by money I mean the political will -- was brought to bear.
Typical survival rates in Ireland are usually 1 to 3 years after diagnosis. I've had MM for 10 years now, and with these new drugs I'm sure I, and people like me, will live long into the future. The care I've receive from the Irish health system has been nothing short of amazing, I'm very grateful indeed.
I think the main problem people have is gaining access to the services. Once you're in the system, it is very very good. It's just breaking through the first barrier that is a lot of the problem. But I'm sure with the impending cuts this will become harder. I just hope the Government give serious thought to this in the upcoming budget, for all our sakes.
I hope I'll be able to live a long and happy life with my wife and children and pursue my career as I always wished.
from Grace Finegan
I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma (deadly form of skin cancer) in Jan 2003. It was probably one of the most frightening periods of my life. It developed as a pea-sized spot on my thigh which, in my innocence, I ignored for a time. I was very lucky that it hadn't spread as it is a killer if it spreads to the lymph nodes, kidneys, liver, bones, brain etc.
Waiting for the results of these tests (about 3 months was absolutely horrifying. This cancer was an absolute result of sun and sun bed use as I had used sun beds for many years. Lethal!
In 2006, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I immediately thought that this was a result of the melanoma. Apparently not. Luckily this was caught early. I had oral chemotherapy for this after the operation, and continue to be monitored by my consultants every six months.
To my absolute horror, three months later, I arrived in New York for a few days having been on holidays in Miami when I was emptying my bladder and it was bright red. I thought I was bleeding to death. To cut a long story short, the next day, after tests, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Again, I immediately assumed that this was a result of the melanoma. But no, it had
nothing to do with it at all. I got myself back to Ireland and again saw a wonderful urologist who has been treating me since. I have had three courses of bladder chemotherapy and have cystoscopys (bladder procedures) every three months to monitor the situation. Unfortunately, up until recently, I have
been getting tumours, which are removed by laser during the
cystoscopy. Sometimes I wonder will I ever get better BUT I would like to stress here that it is very possible to live a fairly normal Life through it all.
The whole idea is to be positive and live life every day. I play golf, tennis and international bridge and have done, right through all this difficult time. I was very lucky to have a husband who was amazing in his care for me. Not easy after all the above.
Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer about 5 months ago and has just finished 9 weeks of 5 days a week radiation. This has not been an easy time but he is also a very positive person.
My mother always said "God makes the back for the burden" and I firmly believe that one can cope with a lot when one has no choice. Being positive and continuing to live life is vitally important.
I hope this email might be of some help to give some-one strength with their cancer/cancers.
from Mary O'Keeffe
My name is Mary O'Keeffe, I am lying in a bed in St Vincents Hospital. I have just undergone surgery for breast cancer involving a masectomy.
Four weeks ago I was like so many women in this country. I was attending the hospital for the usual mammagram, I was checking myself for lumps and bumps. I was very aware of the importance of self check as my huband has had prostate cancer, which was spotted during a routine blood check for PSA.
Both my husband and I agreed to go live on the Marian Finnucan show some 5 years ago to inform people of the dangers of prostate cancer if left unattended. If caught early like my husband, a total cure can be the outcome. I never thought I would be ever again in the same position.
The main thing to say about breast cancer is that it is not the same for everyone. Each individual will have their own body specific breast cancer and therefore the identification of breast cancer can be difficult or straightforward depending on the individual.
In my case I had Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. Not identifiable by a mammogram and only partially identifiable by ultrasound. I found a small ridge-like bump on my breast, which was thought to be an unlikely cause for concern. Between the bumps and jumps, it turned out to be a 7 cm tumour.
Fifteen percent of women will have this type of tumour. Eighty-five percent of women with this type of tumour will present late because it is so difficult to identify with a mammogram.
My message to everyone is: request an ultasound if you notice anything and get to know your own breasts. If you can catch it early it will be treated and cured.
I now face into chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I will deal with that as it happens.
The surgical team and nursing team in St Vincents are wonderful. They need our help to get the message out there about Lobular breast cancer and the importance of self checking.