In September 2020, Chris Monaghan was told he had Hodgkin lymphoma. Almost 150 people are diagnosed with this cancer of the lymphatic system and it occurs most often in young people between the ages of 15 and 30. Chris, who was 26 years old at the time, had welcomed his second daughter, Aoife, in March of that year. Around June, he started struggling when he was feeding and changing Aoife, and he was also experiencing pain in his back.
In his work as an electrician, he started to have difficulty carrying his hand tools. “I thought the pains in my back were posture related at the time,” says Chris, who lives in Arklow and who grew up in London before moving to Ireland in 2019 where his family is from. “I started doing some exercises to strengthen my back. I was commuting from Wicklow to Dublin and I thought that maybe sitting in the car for two hours might be causing it too.”
The symptoms got worse and on several occasions, he woke up with night sweats and a pulsating pain in his back. Then the lymph nodes on both sides of his jawline and collarbone swelled, and Chris began to research these symptoms. “I was ticking boxes for a type of lymphoma so I went to the doctor,” he says. The GP sent him for blood tests but these tests didn’t indicate anything was wrong. “The doctor said he’d refer me to a consultant but I’d only lived in Ireland for a year and I didn’t have health insurance, so I went to St Vincent’s to A & E and explained I had pains in my back, night sweats and all my glands had swollen up. They gave me a CT scan straight away and kept me in for a week,” says Chris. Following more tests, Chris received a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma.
His treatment plan began with six months of ABVD chemotherapy. “After two months, I got an all-clear on the scan but I continued the chemo for the duration of the course, and at the end of the six months, I’d relapsed and the cancer had returned,” he says. He then prepared for a stem cell transplant, which included harvesting his stem cell and three intensive chemotherapy sessions. He was given the all-clear 100 days after his transplant and because of his previous relapse, he was advised to start an antibody treatment, scheduled every three weeks for 16 cycles. He has completed 10 of these cycles, some of which were spaced out to four-six weeks to suit his health and personal life. Chris has paused the treatment for the moment after developing side effects of peripheral neuropathy. This caused a loss of sensation in his feet, which he hopes will come back over time.
Chris’s partner Sinead visited the Daffodil Centre in St Vincent’s Hospital and she used the Irish Cancer Society website to find information about finance. “At the early stages, you’re not working, and it took a long time to understand about going on illness benefit and trying to fill out forms for work. The financial information we got through the Irish Cancer Society really helped,” he says. They also got counselling via Arklow Cancer Support, and Chris is currently doing reflexology through the centre.
He continues to get fitter and stronger each day. “I have my tired days but my older daughter Caitlin is 6 and Aoife is now 2 years old so I’m kept on my toes with them. I’m in a good place at the moment,” he says.
His advice to other people is if you feel that something isn’t right, don’t delay in getting symptoms checked out. “If I had waited for my doctor and got the referral, it would have been four or five weeks before I was seen. Because I had gone to the hospital, I was already starting treatment within that month. Just listen to yourself, and get yourself seen to if you suspect that something is wrong.”
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
For more information