When Sean Moran was diagnosed with what is often an incurable cancer, multiple myeloma, in 2010, he immediately did what many others would have done and googled the disease to see what he could expect. The retired engineer from Crossna, Co Roscommon chuckles as he recalls: “It said four years so I thought I better start getting things in order.”
Twelve years on, he is still undergoing chemotherapy three weeks out of every four, but he is also preparing for the experience of a lifetime when he participates in a showing event at the Dublin Horse Show in the RDS on August 20th.
He may have lost four inches in height and have six collapsed vertebrae in his back due to the rare form of blood cancer, but he has no fears about the adventure ahead.
“I am really looking forward to it,” said the 78-year-old, who grew up one of seven children on a farm where his father, Tom, always had working horses for mowing and ploughing. The family has a history with horses and Moran was recently shown an invoice dated 1815, for flagstones delivered by horses to the nearby Rockingham estate by a Bartley Moran, who he believes was his great great-grandfather.
He has also been told that stones used to build the courthouse in Boyle around 1830 were drawn from Arigna by his great-grandfather, so the passion for horses is no surprise.
I was coming up to the fourth fence and you won’t believe it but a parachute landed in front of me. If it happened today it would be viral
The Roscommon man is fairly sure that the RDS event will not be as challenging as another adventure on horseback he had almost 40 years ago when he was living and working in Zambia, and was representing that country showjumping on a thoroughbred called Compton Gate, which he then owned.
“It didn’t go so well,” he said with typical understatement. “I was coming up to the fourth fence and you won’t believe it but a parachute landed in front of me. If it happened today it would be viral. I can still see this big red-and-white thing fluttering down to the ground. I can even see the colour of the fence.”
Throughout his working life in places such as Zambia, South Africa, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Oman, Moran — who once took classes at Iris Kellett’s riding school — kept up his hobby.
When he started to feel pain in his back 12 years ago he thought it might be from playing arena polo in Riyadh. “My daughter Kim said, ‘Dad, do you think it might be cancer?’ and I told her no, that I had injured my back.” When blood tests showed that Kim’s hunch was correct, he reassured her that he would still walk her down the aisle when the time came, and it is a promise he will happily keep in October when she gets married in the UK.
There have of course been many challenges since 2010.
The GP who diagnosed him in Saudi after doing blood tests ordered him to head straight for the hospital, adding: “Don’t even go home for your pyjamas.”
Back in Dublin he ended up in the care of consultant Dr Gerard Connaghan at St Vincent’s hospital. “He told me I had been the worst he had ever seen at presentation.”
Some of the treatments he has undergone have been gruelling but he is grateful they have kept him alive.
Stem cell treatment in 2011 gave him 3½ years, he says, but his weight went down from about 85kg to 71kg.
“There was nothing of me left.”
Treatment at the beginning of last year was also tough. “I had three lines into me for four days, 24 hours a day. It was outrageous but without it I wouldn’t be here.
“Dr Connaghan told me it was the last chapter in his book and I suppose that meant it would have been the last chapter in my book too.”
But he has gone from struggling to get from the bed to the bathroom, to walking with an aid — “the type of thing old ladies go shopping with” — to being able to cycle, and in the last few months he is back on horseback. “The hardest thing is getting back off,” he says.
Another thrill was being able to drive again. “It was magic.”
There was a little girl there in Ugg boots. She was only 15 or so and she was as pale as death lying there. I nearly cried because I thought, at least I’ve had a shot at life
Moran says he wanted to take part in the Dublin Horse Show “to give back for the wonderful treatment I have had”. On August 20th he will be riding Dara Winters’s Newtowns Silver Bobby in the RDS to raise funds for the Irish Cancer Society. His target is €20,000.
He believes he has been lucky to have had such a dedicated medical team and to have been around when so many new treatments were coming on stream.
“The first day I went in for treatment there was a little girl there in Ugg boots. She was only 15 or so and she was as pale as death lying there. I nearly cried because I thought, at least I’ve had a shot at life.”
While he may never have been a participant before, he attended the Dublin Horse Show many times over the years including in the golden era of Eddie Macken, Paul Darragh, Con Power and James Kieran when they won the Aga Khan Trophy for Ireland three years in a row in the 1970s.
He says his category will be easy enough from a riding point of view but it does involve cantering which is harder now because of age “and the other thing”.
“When you are cantering you use the middle of your back as a shock absorber and I don’t have the same flexibility in the middle of my back”.
Meanwhile, with one treatment to get through the week before the Horse Show, he will find time for a number of training sessions at the Moorlands Equestrian Centre in Drumshanbo.
And after his date in the RDS he has his 79th birthday and a trip up the aisle with his daughter to look forward to in the autumn.
Donations can be made to idonate.ie/ShowUp4Cancer