Tuesday 24 September 2019

'There were no alarm bells... I thought I was fighting a flu' - dad-of-four on warning signs of lung cancer

Tony Walsh
Tony Walsh
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

A dad-of-four has told of how there were “no alarm bells” before he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Tony Walsh, from Coolmore Roslowleigh in Donegal, thought he was fighting a flu before he visited his local GP and was advised to get an x-ray.

The 57-year-old underwent both surgery to have a lung removed and chemotherapy within four months of his first GP visit.

Former business owner Tony, who was forced to shut his own construction business after he was diagnosed, said he misses “the day job” but now wants to “give something back” and advise people of the warning signs.

He also paid tribute to a young stand-in GP who was working in his community, who said he “knew there was something wrong” during his first appointment. 

“There were no alarm bells, I thought it was the flu I had,” Tony said.

“Another possibility was that it was a chest infection, I was weak and tired, but I definitely never thought cancer.

“That was the last thing I thought.”

Speaking to Independent.ie, he said he remembered the November 2014 GP visit clearly. He had a persistent cough at the time and had a lack of energy.

“There was a younger bloke filling in because my own doctor was away. He took me under his wing. I remember his words, he said; ‘I know there’s something wrong’.

“He was just a young GP. I was trying to fight this thing off myself but my body was getting down on energy and he recognised that.”

Tony was diagnosed in January 2015, after a biopsy confirmed he was suffering from lung cancer.

He said he remembers the moment he was told he had cancer clearly, and he immediately thought the worst.

“Dr Keating in Letterkenny Hospital called me in. She said, ‘I’m sorry to say, you have lung cancer’.

“I remember it well, I didn’t know what to think at the time. Everything went blank to be honest.

“I couldn’t even think of what was going on, I went numb in myself.

“I had to come clear and think, ‘right, where do we go now?’, I thought it was the end of the world.

“I thought I was finished, every story you’ve ever heard comes into your head.

“I have four boys, they were so great throughout it all. Really great sports. I’m sure they had their own wee thoughts on what the outcome was going to be too.”

Tony said the operation was daunting, but acknowledged that he was lucky because of his early diagnosis.

Doctors said his cancer tumour was located in the top of his lung, and the next stop for the cancer would have been his brain.

He attended St James’ Hospital in Dublin for his lung operation in March 2015. 

“I had to be positive about it. I left myself in the hands of Dr Ryan. He was the man who knew what he was talking about.

“They took away a whole lung. I’m on the road to recovery now, but I will never fully recover.

“My breathing is my biggest problem. Sometimes I get caught up and it takes me a while to get my breath back.

“I just need to take care of myself and I go to Dublin for check-ups every six months.”

The dad-of-four admitted that the toughest time for him was the chemotherapy treatment.

“I was told I was going to have chemotherapy to clear up any pieces or bits missed in the operation.

“It was the hardest part for me. Chemo is fairly sore on the body and mind,” he said.

“I felt as if my body was kind of in pins and needles, like when your hand goes to sleep. It was a constant drowsiness over my eyes. It was a bad place to be.

“It can be fairly sore. People are being nice to you but you’re finding it hard.”

Now, three years later, Tony is concentrating on his health.

“Daily life isn’t any worse, you have to get up everyday and go,” he said.

“You have to keep the mind occupied. It is very important to me to get the word out there to people.

“There was a girl who I used to work with quite a bit, she was diagnosed and was going through a similar operation getting the lung removed.

“I was trying to help her, telling her the things to watch out for, the things ahead, asking her how she was feeling.

“I want to get it out there now. Early diagnosis is key. If you have a persistent cough at all, go get it checked.

“I miss the day job, but I’d love to give something back now.”

To coincide with International Lung Cancer Awareness Month, the Marie Keating Foundation has launched a ‘Listen To Your Lungs’ awareness campaign to alert people in Ireland about the risk of lung cancer if they have a persistent cough for more than three weeks.

Approximately 2,300 Irish people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year. It is the fourth most common cancer in Ireland, after prostate, breast and colorectal, however more people die from lung cancer in Ireland than any other type of cancer.

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