Malin To Mizen Head

I woke up one random Thursday morning in Sept 2011 and I didn’t feel well.  I had always been an avid cycler and had been planning to do Malin to Mizen Head in March 2012.  A 630km + cycle from the top to the bottom of Ireland. I had been cycling all summer & this particular morning I had gone out & turned back after 10 mins.  I was exhausted.  I put it down to a bad day. 

The next day I went down to buy the new Blink 182 album. It was about a 3k walk but I couldn’t even finish that and had my mum come and collect me.

Over the next week or so I had serious joint pain along with prolonged tiredness. It got to the stage where I couldn’t close my hand, make a fist or even open a bottle of Coke.

Fast forward to Christmas of 2011 I had moved out of my parents house & noticed I had lost a staggering amount of weight.  I put that down to moving out of my family home & not getting as many home cooked meals.  On Christmas Day I was down at my brother’s house for dinner and my hands were so fucked I couldn’t even cut my turkey slices.  I ended up sleeping most of the day.  My brother Wes told me I should go to the doctor as we all knew there was something wrong with me. I was just putting it off not wanting to spend €50 visiting the GP.

The 1st week of January I went to my doctor as I had also started sweating profusely at night.  I told him my symptoms & what I had been going through the last few months.  He immediately sent me to Tallaght Hospital for blood tests.  Looking back now I think he knew what was wrong with me but had known me my entire life and didn’t want to say it to me.  I went for blood tests that day.  I literally got a phone call that evening telling me I was neutropenic. A word that no civilian should ever have to hear.  It means my body could not make white blood cells & fight infection.  This was the start of my journey into cancer.

I arrived at the hospital that evening after the phone call.  My parents dropped me up.  I was immediately put into isolation.  Over the next few weeks it became a chicken or the egg situation.  The reason being I was constantly sick & I was getting serious throat infections with puss building up in the back of my throat.  I was then sent to A&E.  The doctor assigned to me kept telling me he wasn’t sure what was causing me to be neutropenic. Was it the sore throat? Or was I getting a sore throat because I was neutropenic?

Along with the isolation and constant infections came countless bone marrow biopsies, daily blood tests & CTE Scans.  This went on from early January all the way up to the week before Easter.  After this, my health took a turn for the worse. I was hoping to get out in time for WWE Wrestlemania which I had watched each year with my friends since 2003.  Unfortunately, it went completely the other way, my body started to shut down. I never thought in a million years I would have cancer.

It was a Sunday night in Webb Ward in Tallaght Hospital in April 2011.  I began to vomit & viciously rigor causing the hospital bed to rattle.  This caused the other patients in the ward to wake up.  Two older men on the ward were there and they called for the nurse Tina to help me. She sat with me & held my hand for the entire night.

The following morning my parents, family & partner at the time had been called.  The Reg (Registered Doctor) Sue told me there was something sinister inside me that was killing me.  So they had to do a Bone Marrow Biopsy on the spot.  They gave me my first ever dose of Chemotherapy through a push syringe over the course of 1 – 2 hours.  My parents & partner were told at the time that this was going to kill me or give me more time. The following two days were crucial. Over the next two days, I bounced in and out of consciousness. My skin felt like it was on fire.  It also felt like I had an alien inside me waiting to get out.

This was the Chemotherapy doing its job.  When I came back around after a couple of days, my two older brothers were in the hospital room.  They had come over from Australia.  They had been told, along with my family & friends, to expect the worst. If they wanted to say their goodbyes now was the time.

Weeks after this I felt the best I had in months, as that dose of Chemotherapy had helped revive my body.  However, I wasn’t out of the woods yet.  The Bone Marrow Biopsy results had come back from America. I was told I had Non-Hodgkins Hodgkins T Cell Lymphoma. This was double Dutch to me, as in the movies you were just told you had cancer. I was told the only option to give me any sort of hope was a Bone Marrow Transplant.

We were called into a room with Professor Enwright.  They went through an eight week plan for me which would build up to the Bone Marrow Transplant.  It was explained to me that it was to be a difficult road with eight rounds of chemotherapy, full body radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. Doctors were impressed that I was doing the chemotherapy on my feet.  But it was the full body radiation that gave me a hint of what lay ahead.

In between getting a Hickman Line & a Pick Line also came the chemotherapy in the spine, which sucked.  Luckily I was also able to pull off a bald head.  It was a summer of ups & downs. I got to meet Blink 182 but also realised this could be my last summer on earth. Finally, D Day came and I got my transplant.

July 31st was the day I had my transplant and also moved from Tallaght Hospital to St James Hospital.  Over that summer we had to find a donor, I was incredibly lucky as two of my five siblings were a match for the Bone Marrow Transplant. My brother Wes was the “lucky” donor.

The process of being a Bone Marrow Donor starts with an overnight stay in the hospital.  You then get put under. They then take either a pint or a litre of blood/Bone Marrow from your hip, which is quite painful and intrusive.  Wes never hesitated once. This bag of blood was then put into me with the hope that my body would accept this blood & start making more of it.  By the end of August it was looking like the transplant was successful.

Come September I developed Graft Vs Host disease.  Which is always a good sign as long as it’s not chronic.  Graft Vs Host is my old cells attacking my new cells and the new cells are doing their job and beating them.To tackle this disease came the dreaded steroids. I was on a high dosage of steroids for nine months.

While all this was going on my counts dropped again.  It was looking like my cancer may be back.  I was brought in for more Bone Marrow biopsies & more tests.  It turned out it was the steroids suppressing my immune system and in actual fact, I was cancer free!

Over the course of the steroids, my hips & shoulders developed AVN, Avascular Necrosis.  Essentially my bones were just wearing away. In turn I had to get both hips & my shoulder replaced.  With all this going on it affected my mental health & my personal life.  My relationship with my fiance at the time broke down. This was nobody’s fault, it was two people in their 20’s dealing with such a shit hand of life.

Over the next year depression kicked in & I barely left my parent’s back room.  I went to see the Orthopedic Surgeon & they were afraid to do any operations on me because of my chronic Graft vs Host.  I broke down in front of my doctor as he said he couldn’t do anything until my GvH was gone. My GvH is still here until this day.

After breaking down in front of my doctor, he made a deal with me that if I signed a waiver he would do the shoulder & hip replacement.  This began in February 2014 and in May 2014 I got my right hip replaced.  Funny story, they sent me home the first time as they were to replace my right hip because they had no right hips left in stock!  Finally, I got my right shoulder replaced.  Then came the physio.  This was to help me become the person I was before I got sick.

I asked the surgeon if I would ever cycle a bike again and he looked me dead in the eye and said “not likely”.  He said his job was just to get me to be able to sit at an office desk for 8 hours a day, relatively pain free. I resigned myself to never cycling a bike again that day.  However I was keen to get out walking and exercising to the best of my abilities.

The next couple of years was about me getting back to myself, which I eventually did.  My depression started to lift as I went back to work and started to have a social life again.  This was all down to some really good friends who always kept in touch with me through my darkest times.

It was during this time I reconnected with some old friends.  As faith would have it one of these friends is now my wife Sarah.  I had known Sarah since I was 18 when we met in Crumlin College in 2004.  We always got on like a house on fire and lucky for me I was fortunate enough to marry this fantastic woman.  She knew going into the relationship I was told I could never have kids due to all the chemotherapy treatment but on Christmas Eve 2018 I got the gift of a lifetime when I found out Sarah and I were to become parents.  Come Sept 2019 my little miracle baby Willow was born.  If it wasn’t for Willow I would’ve never got on a bike again as I was keen to have her cycling the way I did when I was a kid.  This is what has led me to this very moment in time cycling from Mizen to Malin Head in July 2022.

If it wasn’t for all the doctors and especially the nurses in Tallaght & St James Hospital I wouldn’t have gotten through the last 10 years.  On a final note, it’s been a long ass decade but totally worth it for the life I have now. Remember Bad Times Don’t Last But Bad Guys Do.