My Health Experience: ‘I am happy to be alive’
In this extract from his book about his eight-year journey through cancer, Kevin Haugh talks about how he coped with the diagnosis, treatment and remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Kevin Haugh with Buddy in west Clare: During chemotherapy, Haugh felt like he had a permanent hangover. Photograph: Mary Haugh
The year 2004 was a momentous one in my life. As principal of Galvone National School in south Limerick, I welcomed President Mary McAleese to the school in January. My sons celebrated significant birthdays – Ronan turned 16 and Brian 21. My wife, Mary, and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and I turned 50.
I started running again with the aim to do the New York Marathon in 2005. Even though my body had reached the half-century mark, I was a boy again at heart. While I was taking a shower after a training run on December 4th, I noticed a slight swelling of the glands on the left side of my neck.
I showed it to our family doctor on a routine check-up four days later and he made an appointment for me to see a consultant the following day. I was admitted to hospital two days later and a biopsy was taken the following morning.
At 7.50am, the morning after surgery, a doctor came to my bedside and said: “I see you have a tumour and there is a problem with your liver.” I was in absolute shock. The surgeon later told us it would be a week before he could confirm anything.
Devastated and terrified
On Tuesday, December 21st, my wife and I were told that I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. We were both devastated and I was also terrified and angry. Although I realise now that the long-term prospects were better than many other forms of cancer, I was told at the consultation that the cancer could kill me. We cried until we thought our hearts would break.
I had a Cat scan, bone-marrow test and blood tests on December 30th. Results showed that I had stage 3B follicular lymphoma which meant the lymph nodes on both sides of the diaphragm were affected. The cancer had not spread to any of my organs.
I began a course of chemotherapy, which had a 95 per cent success rate. The bone-marrow sample was also free from cancer which opened up the possibility of stem-cell transplantation.
The weeks passed and the cumulative effect of the medication began to take its toll. My tastebuds were affected. My energy levels fluctuated. I had bouts of nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, blinding headaches, blurred vision and difficulty concentrating. These experiences were compounded by night sweats and a foul body odour by day.
Often, my working day proved a welcome distraction. Externally, I presented as composed an image as possible and kept to myself the ravages of the chemical assault that was consuming me, physically and emotionally. Inwardly, I was shattered and terrified.