Everything that happened to me, happened to my brother

Tue, Nov 1, 2011, 00:00

MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE:Siblings diagnosed with brain tumours seven weeks apart, relate DARRENand KEITH GIBBONS

I COLLAPSED in the sitting room; the date was October 17th, 2006. My wife called West Doc and I went from the house to Merlin Park hospital, to UCHG and then to Beaumont at 4am and under the knife at 8am the following morning. It was as quick as just snapping your fingers.

It was a grade three brain tumour – the type of the cancer was glioblastoma.

My brother Keith had called around two nights before and we had a bottle of wine. The following day, I had a really bad headache and I felt sick. I said to myself, that wine must have been corked.

The next day I felt the same and that night I was having unbearable headaches and nausea when I collapsed.

After the operation, I was out of it for weeks. From the surgery, I had an acquired brain injury, so I was totally bewildered.

When they brought me back to the house, it could have been any house in any estate, anywhere. I didn’t know it. I couldn’t be left alone or anything.

Up to that, I was earning up to €50,000 a year, working in project management, driving a company car, a very independent person. Then I just basically went back to being a 10 year old. Life just stopped.

It had been a busy year. We got married, bought a house, our son Frankie was born on October 2nd and I had my tumour removed two weeks later.

My short-term memory was affected – most of it has come back now – my left leg is limited and I’m registered blind. I can’t drive or anything.

Positive mental attitude really is the only thing that got me through.

Frankie was just a baby. But it was so tough on my wife and we’ve since broken up because obviously the pressure was too much – I mean we were only married in April, so it was an awful lot.

It was almost seven weeks to the day when Keith went through the same thing. He’s just 18 months younger than me so we are very close.

He visited me around Christmas and he had a cold, but he said he was dying with a headache and was puking up all over the place. I said, “To get me off your back, will you just go in and talk to Padraic, our GP?”

They sent him to hospital for tests and they found a mass in his brain. It was the same type of cancer and the same grade as me. You couldn’t write it. If you wrote it, no one would believe it. I mean, lightning isn’t supposed to strike twice.

It was like Groundhog Day. Every single thing happened again. Straight in the ambulance and up to Beaumont. We had the same consultants, the same nurses, the same wards, and the same intensive care.

I was visiting him while I was going through my own treatment. It was unreal. Everything that happened to me, two months later it happened to him.

I don’t know how my mother, Marian, did it; she’s the strongest woman I’ve ever met.

Keith responded well to treatment initially. He’s a manager with a medical company in Galway and he went back to work, even through his chemo. It shows the character of the guy.

He was having six-monthly MRI scans, but it started to grow back the beginning of this year.

They upped his treatment, but it started growing stronger and they upgraded it from a grade three to a grade four – on a scale of one to four.

He had to leave work in the end. He tried and tried and eventually they were looking at him saying, “Why are you here?”

He was having mini-seizures and tics, you know, and he still hadn’t given up – he’s more cantankerous than I’ll ever be.

They had one attempt at surgery, but it got to a stage where they couldn’t , so they put him on chemo. He was degenerating the whole time.

He researched the Burzynski Clinic in Houston, Texas, on the internet .

His consultant was right behind him and wrote any letters he wanted. He went out there at the end of July.

The total cost would be up about €50,000 with an apartment and flights and all that, so it all kind of adds up.

When we started fundraising, we got masses of support. There are various small fundraising things going on and I think the latest total is about €18,000.

They’re still trying with him. My mother is just back from there and she says he’s in decent form. He’s going to come home now, his wife is there with him, and he’s going to continue his treatment here. There are a lot of pills, about 20 or 30 a day and that’s where we are at now.

I definitely wouldn’t write him off. He’s more contrary than I’ll ever be, and I say that endearingly. I’m hoping for the best, hoping for a miracle really.

Whatever about myself, I can manage myself, I can fight my own battles, but he’s my brother and it’s hard to watch it from the other perspective. I’ve actually seen it from both sides – from the patient’s side and from the family member’s side.

All I know is that we are going to try our best to do everything we can. I haven’t given up.

Every day is a new day, and any day that you can give out about it, is not a bad day at all.

You can follow the K Project, a trust founded by the family and friends of Keith Gibbons on Facebook or donate at thekproject.org

In conversation with Joanne Hunt