'I never thought I'd get to marry Mel' - young Kildare man who's battled cancer three times marries childhood sweetheart
A young man from Kildare who was given six months to live in 2015 has married his childhood sweetheart.
Michael Mullan (27) had previously battled cancer twice when he received his third devastating diagnosis just three months into his dream Masters at Harvard’s prestigious law school.
"I had cancer as a child, as a year and a half, it was called neuroblastoma and I was told I had a one in four chance of surviving," he told Independent.ie.
"I suppose growing up I always had a background of cancer, knowing I was lucky to have survived it, hearing from my parents what I had gone through. I was lucky I was a child that I didn't remember it too much."
In his final year of Law and Business at Trinity College, Michael was diagnosed with kidney cancer and underwent surgery. Despite taking two months out of college to recover, Michael graduated with first class honours that year.
"I always felt I wanted to give back because I was so lucky and the doctors had been so good to me so I always volunteered with different cancer charities. I actually set up the first Relay for Life in Kildare and raised over €30,000 so I suppose I always had that link to cancer."
After moving to Boston with his childhood sweetheart Melissa Murphy (26) to attend Harvard on a scholarship, Michael got a pain in his stomach.
"They thought it was a chest infection or pneumonia but given my cancer history they decided to send me for a CT scan and an x-ray. That came back that the cancer had spread to my lungs, abdomen, and lymph nodes - that it was back again."
He was given just six months to live.
"It was a bit of a shock to the system - I had thought I had finished with cancer and that it was a new start in America so it was kinda hard to deal with.
"To hear you have six months to live, I didn't really know what to make of it so we just decided I'd beaten it twice before, why not a third time?"
After the shock, Michael knew what he wanted to do. He has known his new wife Mel since they were teenagers, saying "we practically grew up together".
"She was my childhood sweetheart," he said.
He made a plan and proposed on the couple's tenth anniversary.
"I organised a boat ride in Washington, we knew a friend who had a boat, so he took us out around the river and we came back to our apartment and went up to the rooftop and proposed there, and luckily she said yes.
"I never really thought I would get to that stage, given the fact I had only six months to live, I never thought I'd get to marry Mel so it really meant a lot to be able to get to this stage."
The wedding took place on July 12 in a family friend’s garden in New York.
"A lot of people came over from Ireland so it was nice to have our friends and family around us and just to celebrate the occasion.
"It was actually perfect. Coming up to it, we were a bit nervous because it was giving it thunderstorms on the morning of the wedding but thank God, all the prayers worked out and it was a beautiful, sunny day so we were very lucky."
However, life in the US hasn’t been all plain sailing. Michael had to return to his Masters in Harvard while receiving cancer treatment to retain his visa and health insurance.
"I was lucky I had the visa and health insurance but it was by no means an easy, doing a Masters in Harvard without cancer is tough going but especially with cancer, it can be quite difficult with different side effects."
The US’s notoriously expensive health care system has also affected Michael: "You're concentrating on the health thing but you always have the problem of money and paying for stuff in the back of your mind the whole time and especially in the US, it's so expensive.
"We're very lucky that the local community have fundraised so much for me but it's sad that you have to put a price on a life really. It's a bit crazy."
Michael, who is originally from Eadestown, Co. Kildare, was treated at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, considered one of the world’s best cancer hospitals.
"If I hadn't been in America, there would've been no treatment for me back home in Ireland. It was unlucky in ways but I was lucky in another way to have world class care and I was in the right place in the right city at the right time."
Michael graduated from Harvard in 2017, and has since completed the first year of his PhD at the American University Washington College of Law. His cancer has stabilised.
"Luckily the [chemotherapy] I'm on at the minute is keeping it stable so the cancer is not spreading - that required a different mindset to be changed. Back in Ireland, you either have cancer or you don't and it's either good news or bad news but over here, there's an in between where you have cancer but you can lead a good quality of life.
"There are some side effects, and I am on about 40 tablets a day but it's worth it, considering the quality of life I have," said Michael.