It started with heartburn but the heartburn persisted and no amount of Rennie could shift it.
After a few weeks of trying over-the-counter medicines to rid herself of the discomfort, Hazel Reardon, 52, from Caherciveen, Co Kerry, headed for the family doctor. It was the end of November 2010.
His prescription gave some relief but she still suffered from violent hiccups. Then there were the excruciating pains in her shoulder blades.
“Once I got wind up, I’d feel a bit better. But then I started to get sicker. I lost weight rapidly. On Christmas Day, I just about managed to cook dinner but I went to bed straight afterwards. I had no energy.”
By January, she was in and out to the doctor and was “weak as water”. He sent her for investigations for gallstones. There were none, but Hazel knew she was seriously ill.
Next check was for an ulcer. “The doctor put a camera down into me and he saw nothing on the way down but on the way up, he saw cancer.” She was given the results on St Valentine’s Day, and was told to go to hospital and bring someone with her. “I knew what was coming.”
Four months of chemotherapy followed and then two bouts of hospitalisation, one for clots in the lungs, another for dehydration. “The chemo was rough but the staff encouraged me to think of better days ahead.” The chemo did its job and the next step was surgery. “Dr Tom Murphy came into my life and I owe it to that man.”
Dr Murphy, general and oesophageal-gastric surgeon at Mercy University Hospital in Cork, has pioneered a minimally invasive technique for carrying out an oesophagectomy. It’s essentially keyhole surgery and he is the only surgeon in Ireland specifically trained in this technique, which he used when operating on Hazel.
“It contributes to faster recovery and improved quality of life for the patient,” Dr Murphy said.
Speaking to mark Lollipop Day, the annual campaign to heighten public awareness of the symptoms of oesophageal cancer, he said anyone experiencing ongoing difficulties swallowing, or who has persistent reflux despite treatment for same for more than a month, should go for an endoscopy (diagnostic test). He said the disease typically affects obese males in their 50s and 60s. Ireland has the second highest incidence of the disease in Europe.
* The Oesophageal Cancer Fund is hosting Lollipop Day nationwide today and tomorrow and is calling on the public to buy a lollipop (€2) and to be aware of the symptoms.
For more information, log onto www.lollipopday.ie
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