David Wilkins

David Wilkins – 'Counselling has had a hugely calming effect on me'

When David Wilkins from Bray in Co. Wicklow discovered a small lump in his arm in 2006, he never 
imagined it would end up being cancer.

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The lump was about the size of a lemon seed. I kind of forgot about it, but a few months later I noticed it had grown to about the size of a grape. So I visited my GP, who thought it was a noncancerous lump called a lipoma, and referred me to a general surgeon to get it removed. That surgeon referred me for CT and MRI scans, where it was determined it was a neurofibroma- a noncancerous collection of cells. They operated in March 2007 and I felt a huge relief that it was nothing more sinister.

David Wilkins

Unfortunately post-surgery, David’s swelling increased and was called back a few months later. In November 2007 he received the devastating news that he had leimyosarcoma, a very rare cancer of the body’s soft tissue. David’s treatment included surgery, and extensive radiotherapy. The treatment worked and David returned to work and normal life for a number of years.

In 2015, David noticed a lump had formed on the back of his leg, which doctors once again determined to be a lipoma, but a biopsy of the lump confirmed that David’s cancer had returned. 

Thankfully after surgery no further treatment was required and once again, everything was fine for David for a number of years. In June of 2018, David took on a new role on the fundraising team at the humanitarian aid agency, GOAL. 

Then, in July 2018, David began experiencing extreme abdominal pain and attended A & E. Some scans discovered a large mass next to the pancreas, and a biopsy confirmed David’s fears, it was a large sarcoma tumour. 

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It was so worrying, as everyone’s mind immediately jumped to pancreatic cancer. I had 28 sessions of preoperative radiotherapy, to try to shrink the tumour a little. Which made me very sick, it wasn’t pleasant. I was also prepped for surgery three times, but unfortunately these were rescheduled at the last minute due to emergency liver transplants that had to take priority.

David Wilkins

In February 2019- David underwent a Whipple procedure- which removed the head of his pancreas, his duodenum, most of his bile duct and gall bladder, part of small intestine and half of his colon. His medical team reconstructed a working intestine from what was left, leaving him hospitalised for 4 weeks. 

“It took a long time for my body to get used to the gut reconstruction. I lost a lot of weight and now take about 50 tablets a day, which is annoying, but sure look! Then as if things weren’t bad enough they also found a clot in my right lung so I had to inject myself with blood thinners for 6 months.”

David returned to work in April 2019, but in August a CT scan discovered a number of secondary tumours in his liver. He was admitted to hospital once again in late Nov 2019, and had half of his liver removed.

“Then everything seemed to be ok for much of 2020, I put back on some of the weight I lost and my energy levels were good.”

But after a routine scan last February, David received more bad news - further secondary tumours had been discovered in his liver. His Oncologist, Dr Mark Doherty, prescribed a specialised embolisation treatment called TACE, where synthetic clots are use to deprive the tumours of blood and oxygen and they begin to die off.

Unfortunately the treatment contributed to a blood infection, which led to him developing potentially fatal sepsis and a further 4 weeks in hospital. As a result of this, David learned that they can no longer continue TACE treatment, as the risks are too high that it could cause sepsis once again.

“The news that they were stopping my treatment came as a terrible blow. I had huge hope in the TACE treatment and had really invested in it emotionally.”

Since then he has undergone a number rounds of very intensive chemotherapy and blood transfusions which have thankfully caused some shrinkage in the tumours, and he was recently able to return to the office again for the first time this year. 

David admits that the last number of years have been extremely challenging, however, he remains optimistic for the future.

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In many ways I’m living on borrowed time and it’s been a huge rollercoaster, we have reached a point where my condition is inoperable and incurable, so we are just managing the disease. But we still have options.

David Wilkins

David says that his family, friends and colleagues have been incredible supports to him since he received his diagnosis. He has also availed of free counselling through Purple House Cancer Support in Bray and encourages anyone affected by cancer to give counselling a go.

“Men in particular, we often want to show ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me’. But counselling has had a hugely calming effect on me and given me the tools to manage everything and to take ownership of my disease.

What counselling does is not 'cure' you, but it's a wonderful thing to just pour all that pain out on the floor, and out of your head, but more importantly, your counsellor gives you the tools to help you realign your emotional and physical self. They help you get back on track and adjust to the realities of your situation as things change. They're like a management consultant for your head. 

They are absolutely life savers.”

Sarcoma information

Find further advice and information on sarcomas at https://www.cancer.ie/cancer-information-and-support/cancer-types/sarco…, or contact our Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700 or SupportLine@IrishCancer.ie 

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