Darren McMahon was just 22 when he noticed a lump at the side of his neck beside his collarbone.
“I was living in London at the time and I did the typical man thing and didn’t worry about it. I thought it might be a cyst,” he recalls.
It was only when he returned home and the other symptoms suddenly hit him. He had lost a lot of weight, had a loss of appetite and experienced night sweats. It was three months before he finally saw his GP.
After a blood test, he was set for a keyhole biopsy, which proved inconclusive. After a fortnight the whole lump in his neck was removed. It was just before Christmas and he was invited to the oncology unit in Limerick to get the results.
“I had thought it might be glandular fever, I never thought cancer because of my age. But I put two and two together and guessed it was cancer when I got that letter.”
He remembers his parents were both silent on the way home after the diagnosis that he had Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“I remarked that these were the worst results since my Leaving Cert and we laughed. We all kept up good spirits after that.”
He had his first chemotherapy session on Christmas Eve 2010. Initially he managed the gruelling regime of drugs fine but then the chronic fatigue set in and he lost his hair and his eyebrows.
“That was tough because that’s when you start to look sick. I had 17 tumours in my chest and neck. I was told it would take eight months for the chemotherapy and then I had a CT full body scan in St James in Dublin and they could see how well I was reacting to the chemo so I finished two months early.”
After studying in Athlone and Cork as a graphic designer, the native of Ennis now lives and interns in Galway city centre. In remission since 2011, next May will be his five-year clear mark, which will mean his regular hospital appointments will move to yearly checkups.
Darren is the kind of patient who would benefit from the new blood cancer research unit which was opened by the Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English yesterday (Wednesday).
The Blood Cancer Network Ireland (BCNI) is a national collaborative cancer research initiative funded by the Irish Cancer Society and Science Foundation Ireland and supported by the pharmaceutical industry.
This new clinical research network based at NUIG’s Lambe Institute for Translational Research on the grounds of University Hospital Galway will see Irish blood cancer patients be among the first in the world to test new drugs and treatments. The network will further knowledge and understanding of blood cancers through a new biobank and registry.
An investment of €2.2m will facilitate research into drugs which may mean that some patients no longer have to undergo punishing chemotherapy
Director of Blood Cancer Network Ireland, Professor of Haematology at NUIG, Michael O’Dwyer said the investment will have many potential benefits.
“It will make Ireland internationally competitive in blood cancer research, increase access to expensive medicines free of charge with consequent savings to the taxpayer, enhance research and development in Ireland, contribute to job creation, and most importantly of all, benefit patients.”
Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, Dr Robert O’Connor, said this research would make a real difference in patients’ lives.
As a result of the chemotherapy he underwent, Darren has 60% of his previous lung capacity and a number of small heart problems.
“This new centre will make the whole process less daunting. A lot of people think cancer is a death sentence but there are so many new treatments out there.”
Social media ban for revenge porn accused
A 26-year-old man has been barred from using all social media platforms since being charged with harassing his former girlfriend by allegedly posting sexually explicit photos of her online along with links to her Snapchat account.
It is the first prosecution of its type relating to image-based abuse, more commonly referred to as ‘revenge porn’ to come before the courts in Galway.
Judge Mary Fahy imposed restrictions, prohibiting the publication of the man’s identity when he was first brought in custody before Galway District Court last October.
This week, she asked Sergeant Christy Burke, prosecuting, why had she imposed the restrictions at the time. He reminded her she had imposed the restrictions then as the case involved sexually explicit material.
Garda Paraic Moran gave evidence in October of having arrested and charged the man with harassing his former girlfriend on a date unknown between August 1, 2015 and July 10, 2019, contrary to Section 10 (1) and (6) of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
The accused made no reply when the charge was put to him at the time.
The Director of Public Prosecutions directed the charge could only be dealt with at District Court level if the man entered a guilty plea.
Judge Fahy asked Garda Moran for an outline of the allegations made against the accused so she could decide on whether or not to deal with the case in her court should he plead guilty.
Garda Moran said the man had been in a relationship with the complainant and it was alleged that sometime after they broke up, she was contacted by a couple whom she didn’t know, inviting her to meet them for sex.
As a result of this encounter, the woman discovered intimate photographs of her were circulating on the internet.
She had sent the photos to the accused when they were together and it was alleged, Garda Moran said, that after the relationship ended the accused uploaded the photos to the internet on several occasions with links to the complainant’s Facebook Snapchat account.
Judge Fahy accepted jurisdiction in October to hear the case in her court and she made an order for prosecution statements to be sent to defence solicitor, Brian Gilmartin’s office and for the accused to come to court this week and elect to either plead guilty or not guilty to the charge.
Sgt Browne informed the court this week the statements had inadvertently not yet been sent to Mr Gilmartin but they would be now.
Judge Fahy remanded the accused on continuing bail to appear back before the court in March and elect then whether he wanted to plead guilty or not guilty.
Bail was granted in October subject to conditions sought by Gardai that he have no contact with the complainant or any witnesses, by any means to include social media; continue to reside at his rental address in the city and notify Gardai of any change of address within 48 hours; sign on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Garda HQ at Murrough, Renmore; observe a nightly curfew between 10p.m. and 6a.m.; be of good behaviour and remain of sober habits; and provide a mobile phone number to Gardai and answer his phone to them at all times.
Judge Fahy added a further condition at the time prohibiting the man from accessing Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok and all other social media platforms, pending completion of the case.
She awarded him free legal aid and also advised him that if he broke any of the bail conditions it was likely he would end up in custody, due to the seriousness of the charge he was facing.
Help at hand for smokers with resolve!
The HSE has launched their annual free programme to help smokers at the start of the new year to try to kick the habit as research shows that 70% of smokers want to give up for good.
With packets of cigarettes now retailing at €15 a pop, there has never been a better time to quit – even if health reasons are not a consideration.
But the impact on health should help make that decision even more urgent, according to the Irish Cancer Society.
The HSE has found that half of all smokers die from smoking-related diseases. In 2015 records show that 5,950 people died as a direct result of smoking, with an additional 100 deaths thought to be the result of exposure to second-hand smoke.
The benefits of become a non-smoker quickly become apparent. The US Surgeon General’s Office insists that after 72 hours of quitting, breathing becomes easier as the bronchial tubes relax and energy levels increase.
After a fortnight circulation improves, making walking and exercise easier. After three to nine months: coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing are reduced dramatically. After five years the risk of heart attack falls to that of a non-smoker while after a decade the risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.
“The first thing is to realise that quitting smoking is a process, and it is important to understand where you fit in the process or ‘cycle’ of change,” said a spokesperson for the Irish Cancer Society.
“You need to plan when and how you’re going to quit. If you can get through the first 30 days without cigarettes, you’ll have gone a long way towards kicking the habit.”
The Quit Smoking West Service offers six free sessions with a HSE Stop Smoking Advisor. This therapist will explore habits and any concerns you have about stopping smoking. They will assess your level of smoking addiction, provide support to deal with challenges and discuss stop smoking medications.
“We know that quitting can be extremely difficult. But by working with us, we will support you to develop a plan to help you to cope with withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and provide you with motivational tips to help keep you on track,” a spokesperson for the service explained.
Call Quit Smoking West on (091) 737262 or email email@example.com for the free, confidential support and advice.
Community volunteers out in force for planathons on banks of Lough Atalia
Student volunteers and community activists were out in force throughout the month of December to push back against the climate crisis – taking part in a series of ‘plantathons’ on the banks of Lough Atalia.
Planting bulbs and trees, the programme was led by Galway Community College which owns the lands involved – and aims to rewild another portion of the city, following in the footsteps of Terryland Forest Park.
While a much smaller area by size, those behind the initiative say it shows what’s possible when the community comes together.
Supported by the National Park City initiative, the creation of this woods and wildflower meadow on what were, until now pasture lands, also had the backing of several other voluntary organisation in the city as well as Scoil Chaitríona Senior, Dominican College Taylor’s Hill, Galway Education Centre and Galway Science and Technology Festival.
With the bulbs provided by the Newcastle-based multinational Aerogen, Convenor of the Galway National Park City Brendan Smith said the project epitomised how the initiative brings interested parties together to do good.
He said efforts such as those on Lough Atalia showed the determination of young people and locals to continue the great work of those who carried out the very first plantathon in Terryland almost 22 years ago.
Those efforts were required now more than ever as the impact of the climate emergency was being acutely felt.
“The frequency and severity of storms is becoming more characteristic of Ireland as a result of unstable destructive global warm weather caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of nature’s ‘carbon sinks’ such as forests and bogs.
“Storm Barra was the latest in a long list of storms to hit our shores over the last decade. But one key way to tackle the climate emergency is to plant trees – and lots of them. The Irish Government wants to have 22 million trees planted annually.
“This planting also happens to tackle the other great global crisis of our modern era, namely Biodiversity loss,” says Brendan.
“One million out of five million known species on the planet are threatened with extinction. Global populations of fauna have declined by nearly 70% since 1970.
“A forest is probably Earth’s most diverse biodiversity rich mix of ecosystems with an oak tree being able to be home to over 400 species of flora, fungi and fauna.
“Planting trees is a necessary action in helping to save the planet from humanity’s errors.”