In September 2015, Tom Barrett was on a regular work trip abroad when he began to feel unwell.
“I have a condition called Diverticulitis so once I got home I tried to get in to see my GP but he was full up. I knew I just needed a course of antibiotics to get it under control, I also had another work trip fast approaching. I decided to call into A&E at the Hermitage Clinic to try to get it sorted.”
While there, the doctor informed Tom he would first need to conduct a blood test. Half an hour later Tom was admitted on the spot with a severe infection.
“As the days passed the doctors began to notice despite the antibiotics, my white blood cells were high and so was my lymphocyte count. I underwent more and more tests and eventually they set me up with an appointment with a haematologist.”
“I will never forget the day of the appointment as it was myself and my wife’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary."
The haematologist diagnosed me with Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). There were no champagne bottles opened that day to celebrate our anniversary. We both felt a sense of utter disbelief, we didn’t fully know what this all meant.”
The treatment for CLL has changed rapidly in the years prior to Tom’s diagnosis. It was decided that Tom would be managed with the watch-and-wait approach as he has had minimal changes to his blood count and few symptoms. This involves regular medical examinations and blood work.
In 2019 however during one of his check-ups, his consultant noticed a consistently higher PSA level in Tom’s blood. Due to Tom’s condition, it was recommended that Tom be referred on to the urology department.
“Four weeks later I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That was an incredibly scary time for me, having two cancer diagnoses. I had just turned fifty-five . This also happened just as Covid began. With CLL you have a weakened immune system so that was already on my mind.
After talking to my medical team and my family, we felt the best treatment option was a prostatectomy, which I underwent in August 2020.”
Tom says having the Irish Cancer Society website was a great aid to him over the last number of years “I have to say during both my diagnoses, the Irish Cancer Society website was, and still is, such a valuable source of reliable information.”
Tom says he is doing better now regarding his prostate cancer diagnosis “I feel I am out the other side now. I am still on watch-and-wait regarding my CLL diagnosis. Of course there are underlying difficulties and challenges following everything, but they are manageable.
If I could tell people one thing, it’s to slow down. Stop and smell the roses. Also, don’t let the label of ‘cancer’ stop you. I can go for a pint with my friends, I can go to a restaurant with my family. It is important not to let cancer prevent you from doing these things. My friend and I are actually off to do a section of the Camino soon.”
Tom is also an advocate for open discussion about men’s health “I think following my own prostate cancer diagnosis I am particularly open with my male friends and family. I encourage all men to conduct a PSA blood test and if needed a prostate exam. The earlier you get it seen to, the better.”
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