I always wanted to work in overseas development, so after University I took a course teaching English and travelled to Ghana to experience working abroad. I was there 9 months when I started getting abdominal pains and at first assumed I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me. After a few weeks it got worse and I was taken to hospital in Accra, the capital of Ghana, where doctors initially thought I had a cyst, but then discovered a tumour that had caused damage to my intestines and stomach. I had surgery in Ghana to repair a lot of the damage and spent two weeks in hospital recovering before coming home to Galway.
As the surgery hadn’t been done in Galway it was difficult to identify the problem, but finally I got a diagnosis of testicular cancer which had spread to my abdomen. My Left kidney had also been damaged during surgery. I was told that the cancer was very treatable with chemotherapy, however the following month I started having pain again. The cancer had come back and had spread to my liver, lungs and lymph nodes. I now needed a new treatment plan which included chemotherapy, 3 stem cell transplants, and 3 months in isolation at University Hospital Galway.
Prior to being isolated I spent a month in hospital and it was during that time that Helen from the Cancer Support Centre came to see me. I don’t remember much from that visit but I do remember Helen saying ‘we will be here for you when you get out.’ I spent Christmas and my birthday in hospital in isolation. It was a very difficult, confusing time and I tried not to become identified with having cancer. I felt it could have been very easy to go down a black hole and very tough to pull myself out if it.
My mum used the Cancer Support Centre a lot during this time. It was a huge help to her to have a place of quiet and support away from the hospital environment. She could relate to people there and get answers to the many questions she had. I think it helped normalise what was going on for her.
Six months after treatment I was still recovering from being so unwell. I used the Cancer Support Centre regularly and found it gave me structure to my life even if it was just for an hour a day. I had massage therapy and weekly counselling sessions and I took yoga classes and a course in mindfulness. I also attended the young person’s support group which I found very reassuring. It was fantastic to be around other people who had had similar experiences, especially after being isolated for so long.
I overcame more hurdles during the coming months – I developed septicaemia, had my kidney removed and had surgery on my liver. The Cancer Support Centre continued to be a huge help to me during this time.
Getting through this experience has given me great resolve for the future. I recently graduated from NUIG with a 1st class honours Masters degree. My checkups have moved from every 3 to 6 months and my plan for the future is to relax, get fit, find full time work and spend some time travelling.
I can’t overstate the support of the staff and volunteers at the Cancer Support Centre and would advise anyone dealing with a cancer experience to get in touch and see how they could help.