Saturday 16 December 2017

'Your health is wealth' - Cork star Kevin Hennessy on his cancer battle

Former Rebels star Hennessy tackling life with vigour and positivity after gruelling cancer battle

Former Cork hurler Kevin Hennessy pictured at the old dressing rooms in Midleton
Former Cork hurler Kevin Hennessy pictured at the old dressing rooms in Midleton

Jackie Cahill

THERE they were, each the size of a 20 cent piece. Five of them, bright red. The scan on Kevin Hennessy's brain depicted a harsh reality. Brain tumours. Cancer.

Treatment was harsh, administered through a chest vein and into the skull.

Methotrexate-based chemotherapy and radiotherapy for six months was prescribed and while there were good and bad days, and Hennessy lost the hair on his head, it worked.

Hennessy smiled: "It grew back within a month or two – but it came back slowly as you can see!"

He's in good form, the Midleton man. Aged 53 now, he is working in the city for the Revenue Commissioners and brimming over with life experience.

But the cancer shook him, naturally. Biopsy, removing brain fluid, the all-important blood results. He'd receive those on a Thursday and following chemo on Friday, he'd be let out from hospital.

Hennessy said: "I kept saying, 'I don't think there's anything around yet that can kill me!' I'm bad enough for all of them. I was very positive during it. And I got more positive when I saw the tumours reducing."

And reduce they did, to the point where Hennessy insists that he's not worried any more. If he is, he certainly doesn't show it, although he does admit that there is no room for complacency.

He explained: "You're never clear but touch wood, on the right side of it at the moment."

Hennessy remembers when he first realised that something was wrong, when severe headaches struck.

He recalled: "Awake all night. I could function during the day but I went to the doctor and he prescribed a painkiller for me.


"Back to him the following week and he prescribed the same painkiller. Nothing worked at all.

"I went to him a third time and he was going to prescribe it again. And I said, 'no, it's not working'.

"I went to the CUH (Cork University Hospital) and the rest is history. A scan found tumours. I spoke to a man on the surgical team from Midleton. He brought myself and my wife down to his office, and he put up the scan and pointed out the five tumours. You could see them clearly. They were inoperable."

But they were treatable and, while Hennessy's scalp bears the scars of invasive therapy, it worked. He has different worries now. The right hip that was replaced in 2004 needs to come back out.

He struggles to get around without discomfort and literally has to plant his backside in the driver's seat of the car before dragging his leg in.

Hennessy is conscious of his weight, too, even though he's down two stone.

When he was a player, he couldn't put it on. Now he struggles desperately to keep it off. He's back playing a bit of golf but jokes that some people tell him that it spoils a good walk.

Hennessy laughed: "I remember Noel Collins was our physical trainer and back in 1984, he'd been there a couple of years and he remarked to one night after training about how I was always picking up these colds and flus.

"He asked me if I would consider a pint or two after training. I went down to my dad and he asked how it was going up there.

"'Ah Jaysus', I says, 'Noel Collins (the trainer) wants to know could I put on a few pounds if I took a pint or two after training'. My dad told me there were easier ways of putting on weight! I have no bother putting it on now, it's trying to get it off. It's a big weight to be carrying around."

In 2012, three-time All-Ireland SHC medallist Hennessy was one of 19 finalists for the 'Operation Transformation' TV show. He didn't make the final five but he's been following a diet plan for the last five weeks.

Hennessy said: "You're weighing yourself and when you're going down and down, it gives you the confidence to keep going."

He still likes his pint on a Saturday night but for Hennessy, it's about "staying away from the table, smaller portions, the right stuff. I was doing all the wrong stuff".

The hip job will be done in the next couple of weeks, thankfully, and that will help.

Hennessy said: "June 2004 – one of the recalled hips. Clinic every year to check it out. Now, after 11 years, it must come back out."

But compared to what he's come through, the hip is a minor detail.

Hennessy added: "You see life differently altogether – worrying about bills and day to day stuff? Your health is wealth.

"You can have all the money in the world but when you get cancer, you'd be saying, how long have I, how did I get it?"

Hennessy was lucky but a two-year-old toddler he encountered in May of last year wasn't.

Returning home on a Bank Holiday Monday, Hennessy became aware of a commotion in a nearby house.

The neighbours were in an agitated state in their front lawn and the air pierced with screams.

Vakaris Martinaitis had fallen from the upstairs window of the house.

Hennessy said: "I got down anyway and I knew they had poor English. His father picked him up so we called the ambulance but it didn't come out.

"There was no ambulance available. They said after that they had one but they were found to be in the wrong during the inquest. I took my car up and the boy's mother came up after us." Little Vakaris died in hospital 72 hours later, with his organs donated to four children, two in Ireland and two in the UK.

Hennessy added: "At the end of the inquest, there were cameras around again. The house was haunted with journalists from all over the country.

"They were coming up to the door. Look, it was nothing to do with me, it was the poor young fella's tragedy. I did what I could to help at the time. I mean, what would you do?"

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