How I went from coward to combat in my battle with cancer

An insider’s account of facing ‘the emperor of all maladies’

Wed, Apr 9, 2014, 12:25

An Imperfect Storm opens on Haugh’s Strand, in Lisheencrona on the west Clare peninsula where life began for me on February 1st, 1954. From there, the book takes the reader on a journey in which I tried to give an honest and accurate account of my experience with cancer.

Some suggest that it is an almost interactive tour of my life before, during and after I was unexpectedly diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The book portrays the changes that diagnosis imposed on my family, brought to our home and inflicted on my relationships. An Imperfect Storm is not a medical text book. Neither does it proclaim to be a self-help tome, or an advisory text on how to live with cancer.

An Imperfect Storm is based on the diaries that I kept from the time I was diagnosed with cancer and underwent extensive treatment. I try to give the reader a close-up of what it is to fight cancer, how I used mental exercises and visualisation techniques to my advantage, and how I and my family handled the illness in our everyday lives.

I went from coward to combat in a battle with the emperor of all maladies – I converted my fear and anger into strength for combat. An Imperfect Storm is an account of my experience and I do not for a minute suggest that it is the same for any other person. My book is a raw description of the roller-coaster of emotions that I experienced from diagnosis, through two courses of chemotherapy, stem-cell harvesting, high-dose chemotherapy, a stem-cell transplant, on to remission and life subsequently.

During the course of my treatment I befriended Clare hurling legend Ger Loughnane when he was in the throes of battle with the mutual enemy. He did the honours and launched An Imperfect Storm for me in Limerick last October. Both of us are of like mind in believing that once you get remission from cancer you can’t spend your time living in the shadow of it.

In his foreword, Prof Rajnish K Gupta, consultant medical oncologist and director of cancer services at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Limerick, sees great value in the book as it gives doctors and those who work with cancer patients a first-hand account of the patient experience: “This book, Dr. Haugh’s first, is a raw reflection of life, including the interference of the medical profession. It reveals aspects of our existence that many of us, including those who work in the health service, are unaware of, despite the unique patient-doctor relationship.”

Prof Niall O’Higgins, chairman of UL Hospitals Group, wrote: “All those involved in cancer care are repeatedly astonished by what the human frame can support and the human spirit can endure. Everyone looks forward to the time when the treatment of cancer, that pernicious and elusive enemy, will not require fiercely toxic and distressing therapy. The sustained, heroic strength and endurance of Kevin Haugh and, he would agree, of his family, in his efforts to reach once again towards good health are vividly and honestly described.

“He states, ‘You have to feel the experience to understand.’ Yet his personal reactions to cancer and treatment, the importance of support of family, work colleagues and his community and the strong collaboration and concern of an expert medical team are all recorded with such sincerity that this book will go a considerable way to promote understanding by everyone, not just people with cancer. For this Kevin Haugh deserves thanks and admiration and for the grandeur of his physical and mental bravery, our applause.”

I don’t have a bucket list, or a list of things to do in life. I am too busy living. I consider myself lucky I was diagnosed in 2004 and was gifted so many additional years of life when I consider those who had a much shorter journey with cancer. If this book helps just one other person, it will all have been worth it.

Now, among other things, I have found myself inadvertently in the roles of contract supervisor of school placement at Mary Immaculate College of Education, Limerick, and co-ordinator of the Clare and Limerick Education Centres’ annual education research conferences. I have academic papers published both in this country and abroad, most recently in New Zealand.

This is my first book and although I never envisaged myself as an author I now find myself with a few works in progress that include a novel and a social history, Twenty-One Years A-Growing .

I am very fond of the Irish language, which is something that was nurtured in me from an early age by my parents, Jackie and Annie Haugh. It would be a gross understatement to say I was delighted to be featured on TG4’s Ar Fúd na Tíre earlier this month, accompanied by my dog, Buddy.

I am exploring organising an education conference in collaboration with Tipperary Education Centre in Thurles for Gaelscoileanna, Scoileanna lán Gaelach and Gaeltacht schools together with other education researchers who wish to present their research in the Irish language in 2015. This ambitious undertaking will most likely be the first of its kind in Ireland.

Since An Imperfect Storm was published last September I have been busy throughout the midwest promoting the book. and was guest speaker at the 2013 Butterfly Ball in aid of the Mid-Western Cancer Foundation last October in Limerick.

All author royalties from An Imperfect Storm go to the Mid-Western Cancer Foundation, founded by Prof Gupta. To find out more, visit

An Imperfect Storm was edited by Trióna Marren O’Grady, ( and published by Outside the Box Learning Resources, Naas, Co Kildare. It is available in all good bookshops and online from and on Amazon.

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