Irishman in London: 'I've faced a life-threatening situation before'

Coronavirus lockdown: Cancer survivor Conor Lane, from the west of Ireland, says the English city has ground to a halt

Conor Lane in the high dependency unit following surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London, on March 1st, 2017

Conor Lane in the high dependency unit following surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London, on March 1st, 2017

 

Conor Lane wrote a three-part series in The Irish Times' Health and Family supplement in 2017 about being diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in his chest, having major surgery and months of treatment. He lives in London and is currently on lockdown as the city tries to stop the spread of coronavirus. Lane was born in Dublin, grew up in the west of Ireland, and is a graduate of NUI Galway and City University London.

Where do you live in London and what is it like there?
I live in Peckham in south London near my girlfriend who is from Clapham. For several years I lived on Newport Court in Chinatown, right near Leicester Square and Soho. I loved the energy of central London. Peckham is quieter, more residential and great for walks in nearby Greenwich. Even during the lockdown, the streets here are still bustling somewhat with cars and buses.

Conor Lane and his girlfriend Helena McNish in Edinburgh last December
Conor Lane and his girlfriend Helena McNish in Edinburgh last December

How is the Covid-19 virus affecting you?

London has ground to a halt. World sport is off. The language school where I taught has closed and social life has ended. My mother is in Mayo and had to cancel a trip to see me because of the crisis, but we stay in touch on video calls. I had been training hard for the London Marathon, which has been postponed until October 4th. Friends from NUI Galway were going to come over to cheer me on, but maybe they’ll get to do that in October.

We've more reason to act as citizens of the world and restrict our movements for the greater good

What does your day look like now?

I had a busy life and all of my memberships have been frozen. It will be strange being around people again when this is over. I get out for a walk or a run once a day, read the news and watch movies. 

You had a rare form of cancer. How are you doing?

I’m in good shape. I’ve been cancer-free for more than three years and still plan to run the London Marathon for Shine Cancer Support, a UK charity for young adults.

Tell us about your experiences with the NHS in England

London has a specialist sarcoma team based in the UCLH Macmillan Cancer Centre near Tottenham Court Road in central London. My care was superb. I had a massive tumour in my chest in 2016. I  was 24 and had chemotherapy, radiotherapy and major surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital. My oncologist, Prof Jeremy Whelan, my surgeon, Simon Jordan, and an army of healthcare workers got a brilliant result.

Does the current situation affect you differently?

My team says that I may be more at risk of feeling unwell if I contract coronavirus because I had radiotherapy on my right lung. I had pneumonia during treatment and my surgery had to be postponed. When surgery did go ahead, in March 2017, Mr Jordan said I had the worst pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung) that he’d ever seen. I’m keep fit though and was running 19km (12 miles) before the lockdown.

How do you think the NHS will cope?

Health services are under the greatest strain in a generation and the NHS is not immune to this struggle. The transformation of the Excel arena in London’s Docklands into the Nightingale Hospital has been remarkable. About 20,000 former NHS staff have returned to help in the coronavirus crisis. Heroes all. On March 27th, I joined in with people on my street to applaud them from my window.

Are you frightened by the current crisis?

I've faced a life-threatening situation before. I’m more apprehensive about what’s to come. How long will this lockdown last? What will happen come winter if there’s no vaccine and this virus makes a resurgence? Some of my friends are in the very high-risk category. It's so tough for people having cancer treatment now.

You have been teaching English to foreign students. How have they coped so far from home?

I was teaching in Hanover Square, near Oxford Circus. My adult students came from Brazil, Ecuador, Romania and Moldova and many were Deliveroo riders, construction workers and hotel workers who took their language learning seriously. By the second week in March, Covid-19 was a big topic of conversation. A young Brazilian woman had just begun working as an Uber driver. She recalled one of her passengers talking about all the countries he’d travelled to on the phone with a friend. “It was awful,” she said. “He was coughing and saying how he was worried he wasn’t going to be let through the airport because he didn’t feel well.” The language school closed on March 10th, and my students were very anxious and concerned.

Does being Irish count there at the moment?

We’ve seen how this virus can affect anyone and everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a certain nationality because we can all get it so being Irish in London at this particular time doesn’t feel important. There’s never been a time when we have more reason to act as citizens of the world and restrict our movements for the greater good.

Is there anything you miss about Ireland at the moment?

I took my girlfriend to Galway last Christmas to show her my former university. Walking down Shop Street, hosting a party at Monroe’s Tavern and walking along the Claddagh are all warm memories that come flooding back at a time like this. But those times can happen again. For now, the message is to stay at home. Lives depend on it.

If you would like to share your experience of how Covid-19 is affecting you there, email Irish Times Abroad at abroad@irishtimes.com

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