A brave Cork man has told how a visit to the dentist led to the greatest battle of his life – against one of Ireland’s rarest cancers, writes Sarah Horgan of the Evening Echo
It’s been almost 12 months since Cian Griffin, a restaurant manager with Elbow Lane Brew and Smoke House in Oliver Plunkett Street, was diagnosed with Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukaemia (CMML).
A rare type of cancer, CMML starts in bone marrow cells before invading the blood.
Concerns were initially raised by a dentist who, after inspecting lumps inside his mouth, realised there was something very wrong.
“I couldn’t eat, sleep or even keep water down,” the 27-year-old said.
“Seizures were a major issue. I was initially given 16mgs of morphine to stop the pain.
“The agony had been so bad up to then that I didn’t care about the diagnosis. I was just so happy the pain was gone.
“Within 12 hours of stepping through the door of Cork University Hospital, I was undergoing chemotherapy. The first 12 days I didn’t so much as have a break.”
Unfortunately, this was just the start of an arduous battle for Cian, who later learned he would require a stem cell transplant.
“At one point I was down to 90kgs. My little sister, Orla, flew all the way from her home in Australia just to find out if she was a match.
“For an entire month, she never left my bedside. Orla has always been a very caring person who would do anything for anyone.
“Our older sister, Tara, had a newborn baby, but still found time to visit me several times a week.”
The Carrigtwohill man underlined the role humour played in lifting his spirits.
“When we discovered Tara wasn’t a match either she joked that she was very upset as she’d been planning to hold it against me for the rest of my life.”
Nurses at Cork University Hospital, who Cian referred to as “angels,” also found creative ways to distract from the horrific situation.
“ At one point I was on the floor screaming in pain. It was so hard for my mother to see me in such agony. There were times when she had to leave the room as watching me suffer just became too much.
“In some ways, the situation was much harder for my family. Luckily I was on so many drugs and painkillers that I can forget most of the experience. At times it was difficult to be stuck in one place. I was basically locked in a room for seven months, where I couldn’t even open a window. The threat of infection was so strong that I couldn’t be exposed to anything that might put me at risk.
“I will never forget the kindness of the nurses in Cork University Hospital. They were amazing even though I probably wasn’t always the easiest patient to deal with.
“On one occasion they produced some wigs from the ward for my dad and me to try on. It was only when mum showed me the photographs afterwards that it started coming back to me.”
After a period on the transplant waiting list, Cian was called for a stem cell transplant.
"My friends and neighbours all approached my family to see if they could donate stem cells. I’m not sure how I will ever be able to find a way to thank them for that.
“In the next few weeks, I hope to sit down and write a letter to the donor to let them know just how much they have given me.
“From all over the world friends chipped in to buy me books, a drum machine and music players to make hospital life easier. My friends, Jack O’Corcoran and Paddy O’Keeffe, came to visit multiple times a week and were always in contact with my family. The people I work for couldn’t have been more supportive. They even sent books and magazines to pass the time while I was sick.
“Their biggest concern about me returning to work was that I might pick up a cold or flu after being exposed to the crowds.”
Cian acknowledged the unique nature of his situation, adding: “I was told that the type of cancer I had was only diagnosed once every two or three years in Ireland. The transfusion means I now have 99.9% new DNA. I also have a completely different blood type. I’m a long way to being completely cancer free, but I never once believed this would beat me. He stressed the difficulties cancer sufferers face when applying for medical cards.
“In my case, just one course of tablets cost €120 a week. All I wanted to do was pay off bills from my car loan and electricity bills.
“My dad said it was sickening how hard the Government made it. He felt they made it difficult for people like us so that we would give up. After going through the process he completely understood why people might be tempted to.”
This article first appeared in the Evening Echo.