Joe O’Brien had been training to do a marathon when he began to notice worrying changes in his body.
“I started to get stiffer and stiffer when I was running, and realised I couldn’t bend down or get on my hunkers. I thought it was the running that made me stiff, and I ended up having a fall and hurting my back in 2009. I knew I had a bulging disk or something, but I didn’t know then what was wrong.”
Things continued to get worse and by September of 2011 Joe recalls that he could hardly move with the pain, including one episode where he was unable to even get out of the car during a trip to the credit union.
After attempting pain management and visiting a number of healthcare practitioners, he was eventually referred to a specialist clinic where he was put “through every machine they had”.
His eventual diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, came as a real shock to Joe, a lecturer who had two daughters in college at the time.
He began cycles of chemotherapy and underwent a stem cell transplant. The physical side effects of his cancer and treatment saw him “shrink” by as much as four inches in height. However, Joe credits a pilates regime, agreed with his instructor, that was appropriate to his condition for helping him to regain two inches through improved posture.
Since then it has been an up and down journey for Joe, who has managed to fit in mountain hikes in Italy and cycles of up to 50 kilometres between two relapses he has experienced, the latest of which came shortly before the start of the pandemic.
Joe had just started further chemotherapy at the time when his routine was initially impacted by a switch of treatment from nearby Tullamore to the Hermitage Clinic in Dublin, but he eventually settled into a cycle of in-hospital infusions and home visits from a nurse to administer the medicine which is progressing well.
While it may not occur to many of us, Joe is keen to point out that cancer now affects so many people around us in our everyday lives whether we realise it or not.
“The financial support for cancer research is very important. I see cancer as a train coming down the tracks, and it’s because of research that I’m able to stay ahead of that train.
Also very important to me is cancer awareness; being aware that people do have cancer, and that they are able to live with it because there are a surprising number of people around us who do have cancer. You don’t know who they are, but they are there and there are lots of them.
The Irish Cancer Society Support Line is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm for support and advice on any cancer related issue.