Monday 23 April 2018

How this stockbroker's family life now takes centre stage after he battled cancer

When stockbroker Andrew Jones developed cancer, he was absolutely shocked. However, as he tells Joy Orpen, that was only the start of what is proving to be long, tough road ­- but it's one he walks with determination

Cancer survivor Andrew Jones. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Cancer survivor Andrew Jones. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Andrew Jones (39), a former Ireland hockey player, works in wealth management. His confident demeanour and elegant appearance suggest he is successful in his chosen career. But he's also had to battle through some very difficult personal challenges.

Andrew grew up in Cabinteely, south Co Dublin. When he was a pupil at Wesley College, he played hockey for Ireland, in various age groups. His older brother currently plays for Ireland's U45 team, while his brother's two sons, Andrew's nephews, are also avid fans. Following school, Andrew completed a degree in maths at UCD, and has worked in finance ever since.

So, all went well until late 2012, when his life unexpectedly changed direction. "I was working for a notorious Irish bank that had been going through some tough times, when I began to have stomach issues," he recalls. "The doctor, thinking it was gastritis, prescribed medication."

Soon after, Andrew accepted a redundancy package and booked a trip to China, Hong Kong and Paris. In mid-February 2013, he returned to his GP, as his stomach problems were still an issue. Blood tests were done, and a week later, the day before he was due to fly to Shanghai, he got a call from his GP, to say "something had turned up".

It emerged that his CRP (C-reactive protein) levels were elevated. This generally indicates inflammation, which can be caused by a range of issues, from infection to cancer. "He thought because my stomach was tender, it might be appendicitis," says Andrew. "He recommended I didn't fly, so I cancelled my trip."

That afternoon, he went to the Beacon Hospital and had more blood tests and a CT scan, which revealed a thickening of his colon. Following three days in hospital, he was told to return in two weeks for a colonoscopy. After the procedure, he got a preliminary report, which indicated a lesion in his colon (large intestine). A biopsy was done, and then an appointment was made for him to see consultant colorectal surgeon, Professor Paul Neary.

In the meantime, Andrew did what most worried patients do, and researched his symptoms. "When I googled 'colon lesions', it came up with three possible causes, including cancer, so I became anxious. I phoned Professor Neary's office, to see if I could get an earlier appointment." Fortunately, they were able to accommodate him.

At that meeting, Andrew learned that he had colon cancer, and would require surgery. "It was surreal. My main worry was how to tell my mum, who'd also had a cancer diagnosis the year before."

Professor Neary offered to operate a few days later. But Andrew hesitated. "Initially, I delayed having surgery, to give me time to take everything on board; but after talking to friends and family, I decided to push forward with it, straight away." Later that day, Andrew told his mother about the diagnosis. "She said, 'We'll deal with it'. I knew she'd do whatever it took. There's nothing she wouldn't do for me or my brother," says Andrew with deep affection.

Shortly after, Andrew was admitted to the Beacon for a partial colon resection. In the course of the operation, two feet of his large and small intestine, some lymph nodes, and his appendix were removed. Following the operation, Andrew suffered from paralytic ileus, a fairly common side effect of intestinal surgery, which causes the bowel to become temporarily paralysed. However, it was remedied over time. He also learned that as cancer cells had been found in one of his lymph nodes, he would require chemotherapy.

Soon after, Andrew was visited by oncologist Dr Ray McDermott, who told him they'd done some tests on his tumour, and suspected a genetic link. The consultant then asked some questions about Andrew's mother's cancer, and arranged for tests to be done on her tumour, which had been removed.

A couple of weeks later, Andrew began a chemotherapy programme lasting six months, which didn't go well. After the first session, he woke up with excruciating chest pain. "I thought I was having a heart attack," he says. "I was in such agony, I couldn't even reach for my phone." He was readmitted to the Beacon, and remained there for the next two sessions of chemotherapy. His treatment continued to be fraught with problems, including severe pneumonia, and a rare blood infection, which resulted in a stint in intensive care.

"I was too ill to realise what was going on, but it was a close shave," he says. Eventually his medical team successfully battled his infection issues, which allowed Andrew to complete his treatment. "My case was particularly complex," he explains. "But the medical team at the Beacon did a wonderful job in getting to the root of the problems, and in finding positive solutions. And they continue to do so."

He says his recovery was also due to the wonderful nursing staff at the Beacon. "Having been through all this, I can really appreciate the great work those nurses did," Andrew says. "They made all the difference to my recovery, and so I have very fond memories of them."

In 2014, Andrew got another shock when his mother was also diagnosed with colon cancer. At that time, he was staying with her in Greystones, Co Wicklow. The following year, she got another bout of colon cancer. Andrew spent two years living with his mother, and is immensely appreciative of their special time together.

Early in 2015, having gone through genetic testing at the Mater Hospital, Andrew and his mother were both diagnosed with Lynch syndrome. This means they have a genetic predisposition to developing certain cancers, including colon cancer. "We're both being monitored very closely. We have an annual colonoscopy and various tests. It's all about staying on top of things," says Andrew.

He says cancer is not just a physical challenge, there are also emotional and mental aspects. One area of his life that now takes centre-stage is his family. "I make sure I see my mum, my brother, his wife, and my two nephews, when I can. I don't want to have regrets in the future. Being so sick has reinforced my family ties utterly. It's a shock receiving a cancer diagnosis, but with good support, a fighting attitude and a great medical team, you can recover. The Irish Cancer Society was part of my support network, and the information and services they provided, made a huge difference to me. They do amazing work. So I fully support Daffodil Day, which hopefully, will raise much-needed funds for critical cancer research, and increase awareness about the need to carefully monitor our health."

Daffodil Day, supported by Boots Ireland, takes place this Friday, March 23. For more, see cancer.ie/daffodilday

Sunday Independent

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