Dubliner speaks of out-of-the-blue cancer diagnosis

Lynch Syndrome: ‘The doctor said you’ve got colon cancer. I wasn’t ready for it’

Andrew Jones is from Blackrock in Dublin and works in finance. He was 34 when diagnosed with bowel cancer in March 2013. It came out of the blue.

“In late 2012, I had stomach pains which I put down to too much coffee and stress at work .” He was “tired and snoozed a lot”.

It persisted, so he went to see his doctor, who thought it might be gastritis and treated it accordingly. Nothing changed.

A sample of his blood was sent for tests “and it came up that I had an infection somewhere. My GP told me to go to hospital and have it checked out.”

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He went to the Beacon Clinic A&E in south Co Dublin where he had a scan. “There was something in the colon, so they said they would like to do more tests.” He underwent a colonoscopy.

An appointment was made with a consultant. “I expected little more than to be told it was 200 quid to see him. I was not prepared for what happened. He said ‘You’ve got colon cancer’. I wasn’t ready for it.”

Andrew was on his own that day. His mother, as before, had offered to accompany him, but he said there was no need.

The consultant asked him to come in for an operation the following Thursday. “He said they couldn’t tell how advanced it was until they operated.”

‘Time to absorb it’

Andrew asked “for time, a couple of weeks. Time to absorb it.”

He “booked a week in New York, but cancelled it”. He then told his mother, the hardest bit. “She loves you so much, she’d do anything for you,” he said.

Two weeks later he returned to the Beacon for his operation. “Two feet of my bowel was removed. They told me I was very young to have cancer and that it might be genetic.” Recovery was difficult and slow.

He was put on “quite strong medication. Then a few days after the operation they said it had spread to my lymph nodes.”

He was sent to see an oncologist who spoke to him about chemotherapy. The treatment began in May 2013 and was given every two weeks over the following six months. He had some bad infections.

“I spent 25 days of that August in hospital. My immune system was very weak. I was in ICU. I was very serious at times.”

The chemotherapy had to be withdrawn to allow his body to recover. Then they decided it was not necessary to complete it. Now “it’s about monitoring, a scan every six months, a colonoscopy every year”, Jones said.

He went to the Mater Private Clinic to check whether genetic factors had been involved in his cancer.

Lynch Syndrome

In February 2014, doctors established he had Lynch Syndrome. This, he said, meant he had “a predisposition to develop certain types of cancers, especially in the colon”. It is a genetic condition. “All you can do is monitor it for the rest of your life.”

It appears to have come from his mother’s side. “Her mother, aunt, and granny died of cancer, but there was no suspicion.”

She herself had uterine cancer in 2012, but at the age of 64. In 2015 she developed bowel cancer, and recovered. It was “very difficult. I was very proud to be able to help her. I’m very close to my mother.”

Andrew has just one sibling, an older brother, who was also tested for Lynch Syndrome. He was clear, “which is particularly important as he has two children”.

Andrew has been back at work since early 2015. “I’m two and a half years post treatment. Typically you must be five years clear before you are considered cured.”

Meanwhile, there’s nothing preventative he can do to avoid further bouts - “just scans and colonoscopy tests for the rest of my life”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times