Blood cancer patient Paul – ‘Lean on others during your journey, don’t try to do it solo’

When Paul Coghlan woke up with an unexplained black eye on the morning of 10 May 2018, he had little idea of the rollercoaster year that would lay ahead of him.

The young dad from Mayo had been feeling unwell in the days beforehand, and he was initially put on a course of antibiotics by his doctor before the big warning signs came.

“I remember the previous day was my dad’s anniversary mass, and I started to feel really unwell; I couldn’t get myself to eat, I couldn’t even swallow water. The following morning I woke up at 5am, and on passing the bathroom mirror I noticed I had a black idea which I had no idea where it came from.

“I went back to the GP that morning and I immediately sensed an air of urgency. He sent me to Galway to get bloods done immediately. I got my mum to bring me up as I was so weak.”

Within two-and-a-half hours of presenting at the Galway Clinic Paul was rushed over to the University Hospital.

“I was told not to go the emergency department, that my paperwork had been sent over and to find the Claddagh ward as quickly as I could.

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“It was at this point it became real that I was very ill, which I had no idea of.

“On going into the ward I was treated by two amazing nurses. They brought me into room 13, I remember, and there they did the first of 20 bone marrow biopsies that I would be getting over the course of my treatment.”

The following morning Paul received a shock diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), a rare blood condition.

“The consultant told me I was very sick. Your white blood cell count should be between 8,000-14,000, but I now had 235,000 leukaemia cells taking over. I was given a less than 10% chance of survival.”

Star jumps

There followed an intensive schedule of 23 chemotherapy sessions in nine days for Paul, who would go on to spend a total of six months in hospital.

Thankfully Paul responded well to treatment and says he is now doing “fantastic” after finally entering remission in 2019; so much so that he completed 250 star jumps a day in May in aid of the Irish Cancer Society to help fund research into new treatments for conditions like AML.

“I also lost my Dad to cancer in May 2013 so May is a poignant month for me. I wanted to set myself something positive to focus on. Then I thought, why not include others and create a bit of team spirit and support as we all come out of lockdown.

“There has been a huge amount of money put into blood cancer research prior to me getting my diagnosis, and without that research I wouldn’t be alive.

“I am painfully aware that a lot of people don’t recover from cancer like I fortunately have. People will lose loved ones going forward but we can at least do our part to make a difference.

“In terms of any advice I would give from my own journey I would say to people: lean on others during your journey, don’t try to do it solo.

“Finally if you’re not feeling well, you should definitely just get it checked- I would rather be ‘silly’ and find out it’s nothing than potentially make a big mistake by not seeking help at all.”

Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line

If you have worries or concerns about cancer, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.

Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm

Roz, Cancer Nurseline

For more information

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