I thought someone had hit me, but it was my bones collapsing
At the age of 43, I was felled suddenly by a cancer I had never heard of. To call it a shock is an understatement
Joe Sheerin: ‘My doctors and nurses were very good at explaining things but it’s great to talk to people who have been through the same illness and come out the other side.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne
I had just got off the train at Connolly Station, heading into my office in Dublin city centre, on a typical Friday morning in February 2011 and was walking along the platform when I felt a heavy thump on my back. I thought somebody had hit me but when I looked around, there was nobody there.
What I didn’t realise was the thump I had felt was caused by the bones in my back collapsing as a result of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer I had never even heard of.
I hadn’t felt any different travelling into work that morning, but the force of that sudden bang on my back was so strong, it knocked me forward and I stumbled a bit. I felt dizzy so I sat down for five minutes before heading into work.
However, the pain in my back started to get worse so I left work and went to see a physiotherapist at the Leinster Clinic in Maynooth on my way home. The physio thought it sounded like a slipped disc but the pain was in the wrong place so he referred me for a scan.
Injection for pain
A doctor in the clinic gave me an injection for pain and I went back to work the following Monday. I had my scan that Thursday and was sent straight over to orthopaedic surgeon Dr Patrick O’Neill in the Mater Private Hospital. I was getting a bit worried at this stage as I knew something was wrong.
Dr O’Neill explained that the scan showed that the bones in my back were starting to collapse and he needed to find out why. I was brought back in the following week for tests and diagnosed with multiple myeloma. At this stage, I was transferred to the care of Dr Peter O’Gorman, consultant haematologist at the Mater, and admitted to hospital to undergo radiation and chemotherapy.
I was put on a combination of three drugs, one of which was a new drug that had been clinically trialled in Ireland. When the pain in my back started getting worse, the chemo was stopped while I had surgery.
During a five-hour operation, I had rods put into my back to hold it up and the surgeon told my wife afterwards that if I had waited much longer, I would have lost all the power in my legs.
Stem cell transplant
After surgery, I went back onto chemo as an outpatient and had eight cycles up to the end of that August. In October, I had my stem cells harvested in preparation for a stem cell transplant. I was given growth hormone in the Mater to overproduce stem cells, which were harvested and frozen. I then underwent high-dose chemotherapy to kill off all the stem cells in my bone marrow.