Gerard, 54, from Ballincollig, Co Cork, was diagnosed with advanced cancer in January 2005 though he knew all was not right for about two years before the condition was identified.
He describes it as a “lonely disease” and has always been a strong advocate for more psychological support for cancer patients. The new strategy recommends the appointment of a clinical lead in psycho-oncology and emphasises the need to ensure a person-centred approach to cancer care.
In 2003, Gerard started to experience bleeding and other problems in his bowel and went to have it investigated, but nothing was discovered at that stage.
“I persisted, because I knew something was clearly wrong and, 18 months later, I went back to my GP and ended up with a colonoscopy in January 2005.”
Thankfully, the cancer was low down in the bowel and had not spread.
“The prognosis was very good. The tumour was treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy for four weeks before it was surgically removed.”
Gerard finished his “physical” treatment in April 2006 and he said his wife, Mary, who he describes as his “rock”, played a leading role in his recovery.
“My doctors were thrilled that they had cured me, body-wise, but I felt I had been released into a world that had been turned upside-down and inside-out. Everything was different. People will say that you go back to your life, but you don’t, because you are different. Fatigue became a huge issue for me, and it did not pass.”
He later realised it was more mental fatigue than physical fatigue.
“I did get the help I needed in the end, but I had to go looking for it. I was very anxious; I felt isolated and abandoned. I was in a dark place and everything was pointing to depression, but it wasn’t, it was more like post-traumatic stress.”
Gerard returned to his oncology nurse in the Cork hospital where he was treated. She said he needed support, so he went to Cork ARC Cancer Support House.
“From the day I walked in the door, life just changed and I never looked back.”
He is glad the creation of the role of clinical lead of psycho-oncology in the new strategy will mean the kind of service never offered to him was now going to be part of a person’s treatment.
“That’s just fabulous, because it means that the whole person will be treated, not just the cancer.”
Gerard provides peer support for the Irish Cancer Society.
“I talk to newly diagnosed patients or survivors who want to talk to somebody who has been through everything that I have been through.
“Recovery from cancer is as much about healing the mind and the soul as it is about healing the body.”