Tuesday 27 September 2016

'I thought I was invincible,' GAA star on cancer battle

Jason Hughes tells of battle with testicle cancer

Claire McCormack

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30

Jason Hughes in action for Monaghan in 2003
Jason Hughes in action for Monaghan in 2003

He vividly remembers picking up a brochure on testicular cancer while sitting in the doctor's waiting room back in 1997.

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Jason Hughes, a then Monaghan inter-county player, had just broken his wrist during a challenge match.

As he sat there staring at the leaflet, the 22-year-old wondered if it could explain the unusual lump he'd noticed in the shower.

Too embarrassed to ask, too scared to admit it, Jason, got his wrist checked out and went home.

But five months later, the lump became a reality he couldn't ignore.

"It was the quarter-final of the club championship, I got a slight knock but it sent sensational pain throughout my whole body, my stomach and right up into my chest," he said.

"Fellas had passed remarks in the shower, you know the way lads go on, so it was noticeable, but I kept hoping it would go away.

"I didn't want to admit it to anyone. It's a private area and I just didn't want anyone else to know," added Jason, who is speaking out as part of Testicular Cancer Awareness Month.

Jason Hughes: 'My message to men is to be open-minded, we have a tendency not to talk about it because we feel embarrassed but you have to accept it and be absolutely honest with yourself.' Photo: David Conachy
Jason Hughes: 'My message to men is to be open-minded, we have a tendency not to talk about it because we feel embarrassed but you have to accept it and be absolutely honest with yourself.' Photo: David Conachy

But after that awkward tackle, Jason knew it was time to come clean.

His parents, Harry and Heather, brought the Castleblayney Faughs clubman to hospital where he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. By that time it had also spread to both his lungs.

"When I heard the word secondary I thought how long have I got? I was annoyed at myself for not getting checked out sooner but I was so young, fit and active, I thought I was invincible," he said.

On the drive home, his mam and dad reassured him that they would fight it together.

"They never broke once. They set the standard and told me, 'we are going to beat this'. They were so strong that they made me strong," he said.

The GAA community also gave him invaluable support. "A local GAA man stopped me on the street and said 'this is the biggest match of my life and I have to put on a man of the match performance'. I wasn't going to let it win," Jason said.

He also derived great strength from US cyclist Lance Armstrong's survival of the same illness.

After 12 months of chemotherapy and two major operations, Jason was given the all clear.

However, he says it has taken him almost a decade to realise that it's finally gone.

"For five years I thought of cancer every morning when I woke up and every night before I went to sleep, it dwindled gradually," he said.

"My message to men is to be open-minded, we have a tendency not to talk about it because we feel embarrassed but you have to accept it and be absolutely honest with yourself.

"As soon as I opened up, the weight just came off my shoulders and it meant I could just start dealing with it," said Jason, praising his wife Andrea and three children, Hazel (10), Alfie (8) and Judy (4).

This April, the Movember Foundation is encouraging men and their partners to get to 'Know thy nuts'. They hope to educate the country on what's normal and, most importantly, what's not.

Though not always seen as such, testicular cancer is very much a young man's disease and is most common in men aged 15-34.

Sunday Independent

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