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Sun 10-Jul-2011 14:05
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A hurler’s battle against Leukaemia
This is a hurler's story. For him, life was serene up to the middle of last year. He had a wife, a career, and he was a handy enough hurler. Then, came the diagnosis of Leukaemia...
Since that time, he has struggled each minute, of each hour, of every day to overcome the disease. His is a story of courage and compassion. He tells it to readers of ‘An Fear Rua – The GAA Unplugged!’ not to frighten or to cause concern. But to offer the hope – and the knowledge – that, though it is a hard struggle, Leukaemia can be beaten.
Hello all, I just wanted to type a few lines to tell my brief story since I got a shock leukaemia diagnosis last summer.
I was a perfectly healthy guy last May, non smoking and doing hurling training three times a week. My wife and I went to a wedding down the West in May 2010, staying for two nights as it was a long drive from Dublin. Before the wedding I was feeling a little tired and it felt like a cold coming on. Normally, when I stay in a hotel, I’d use the pool, sauna, steam room and so on but this time I felt a bit under the weather. I took some paracetamol from a nurse friend before the wedding, had some whiskeys and enjoyed the wedding, was up late etc. The day after the wedding, I had a bad sore throat, felt rotten, so we didn’t hang around the hotel too long after breakfast and headed back to Dublin on the Sunday.
It was very hard to swallow food or drink so I got antibiotics from my doctor and spent the week trying to get better. The throat eventually cleared up, but by Saturday, I was dehydrated, feverish and vomited during the night. That day, at 3pm I called who eventually arrived at 9pm. He said it might be appendix trouble as I had tummy aches. An ambulance took me to A & E, blood test taken, registrar came back to say he suspected leukaemia as the white blood cell count was astronomical. I spent the night in A & E on drips and in fever. Somehow I managed to sleep, my wife by my side all night. I had a catheter put down below for urine collection and a quite large tube up my nose into my stomach for feeding purposes. On Sunday morning I actually was sitting up in bed and I was able to listen to Meath vs. Offaly on the radio and I wasn’t in any discomfort really. I was transferred to the Mater Hospital that Sunday with a nurse and doctor in the ambulance, straight to the Intensive Care Unit, where they started giving me emergency chemo, highly toxic red and yellow coloured fluids, into my veins for about twelve days.
The leukaemia was highly aggressive. Basically my bone marrow was no longer producing red, white blood cells or platelets properly anymore and the white blood cells had to be destroyed by the chemo or I would die pretty quickly. Leukaemia symptoms are very like flu and some people die because by the time diagnosis is made, the damage is irreversible and it’s too late for chemo. My wife was told I had a 50/50 chance of getting through ICU and this was only because I was fit and a non smoker. I spent a week in ICU fighting the thing, alarms going off from my sensors during the night, with a nurse sitting beside me the whole time. I wasn’t in any pain, just severe discomfort - with bad fever, dehydration, and, of course, the leukaemia and chemo was making me sick too and I was on dialysis and oxygen. Every day I would get an x ray, maybe a CAT/CT scan.
The illness stabilised a bit and I was moved to HDU for a few days before being moved to a single room in the main haematology ward to continue treatment. Basically I got more chemo over the next three months, with breaks of a few weeks after each course to give the body a chance to recover. I was quite weak, confined to bed, unable to eat or walk for about six weeks. The illness and chemo made me quite ill and there was a good bit of vomiting. The anti sickness drugs are quite good though and really help. One good one was cyclosine which I could get about three times a day through the IV drip. About three seconds after that went into my vein, I’d feel euphoric, and my whole body would go still. It was a massive high and I couldn’t really talk for about thirty minutes!
As I said before, I had a feeding tube inserted up my nose. It was quite thick and I was getting a couple of thousand calories daily through this. They could also inject crushed up tablets and water through this. I wasn’t able to swallow tablets for a good while as they would come back up as I felt sick a lot. The nurse would grind up the tablets with mortar and pestle and water. Every morning two or three nurses would wash me. I was so weak; I wasn’t able to move in the bed. My bed was electric with a control that I could move the head part up and down. My lungs were suffering from chemo and from being confined to bed. I caught bad pneumonia from a strain normally dormant in the body. This almost killed me. It was impossible to turn over in the bed without gasping for air, even though I was on oxygen. I just avoided being put on a ventilator. I was put on four litres of every antibiotic and fungicide every day for weeks to kill it. Every day I would get fevers and chills, up to 41 degrees at one stage. Paracetamol and fans usually cooled me down in a few hours. Eventually, the pneumonia was taken care of.
Now, I hadn’t eaten in weeks but I gradually started to. In the early days I took one and a half hours to eat a bowl of rice crispies. Breakfast was at 7am, dinner 12pm, tea 5pm. I had to let my dinner go stone cold to eat it, mixing mashed potatoes with milk, like baby food really. At the start my wife spoon fed me as I was so weak, but gradually I fed myself. The food was reasonably OK. The menus were rotated every week and the only issue was that after a few weeks I get tired of the stuff, missing home cooking. On TV, I had to quickly change channels if any food ad or programme came on. Very often even the mention of food would make me sick.
During the last year or so I had quite a few procedures done to me. I had five bone marrow tests done. Basically a doctor tapped into my back/hip bone and sucked out a marrow sample for analysis. The first chemo killed the abnormal blast cells down to about 10% and subsequent chemo reduced this down to less than 3 or 4%. I had lines put into my neck, groin, arm etc at various times. Blood was taken from my arms every day for analysis. Urine was measured and tested as well. There were daily X rays and the odd lumbar puncture too. After the lumbar puncture you have to lie down for a few hours.
I think that after about six weeks in the room, the physios were keen to get me out of bed. Now, I had been able to do a bit of arm and leg exercises in bed but getting out of bed was extremely hard – my lungs were on fire. It took about ten minutes and I was put sitting in an armchair, unable to raise my head. I sat out for maybe thirty minutes and was put back to bed. That was the start of getting up and about. Eventually I was up walking the corridors, but at one stage I was so bad, they talked to me about going to the Rehab centre at Dun Laoghaire but in the end I didn’t go.
One day the professor said I could leave the hospital for a few hours at the weekend, so I jumped at the chance. My wife wheeled me out to the car, and we visited some relatives. I had oxygen with me and I used it as it was a scorcher of a day sometime last July. Next day I was completely zonked, shattered, but I continued getting either chemo or just resting. I was getting a lot of blood transfusions every week, sometimes two a day. By August I was able to be discharged as I was in technical remission, but I needed a bone marrow/stem cell transplant, and they had identified a potential donor.
I was at home in August, didn’t do much except read, internet and TV. I just lay on the sofa all day, tired. I wasn’t too sick and I was eating well. So, I went b
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