WHEN Clive Read parked up his snazzy sports convertible outside the A&E of Cork University Hospital, he thought he might be inside for an hour or two — not for a whole month.
“I didn’t even feel sick,” says Clive, 48, who lives in Leamlara with his wife, Fidelma and their three children, and who is the General Manager of O’Briens garage in Midleton.
“But to appease my wife, I went to my GP for a check-up after she noticed I was getting breathless acting the maggot playing with the kids in the garden on the trampoline. The doctor sent me to A&E for tests.
“I remember I jumped into the sports car from Keary’s garage, Mallow, where I was manager at the time, and I cruised into the GP’s office. He decided to send me to a respiratory consultant in CUH.
“After the six-hour wait in the hospital and after the X-ray, a lot of doctors appeared, and there was a lot of activity,” says Clive.
“Something had shown up in the lining of the lung. When I was admitted to CUH under the care of Dr Kennedy, I said fair enough. I had asthma as a kid and was tested for TB, but I wasn’t worried.”
Clive, who is originally from Roscrea, never thought his short journey cruising into his GP’s surgery in the autumn of 2010 would lead to a much longer, emotional, physical and determined road in the fight against cancer.
“I was in the hospital for a month, going through numerous tests, and biopsies, including a bronchostomy procedure when my lungs collapsed.”
Clive, along with hundreds of cancer survivors, will walk and run together in the Relay for Life, at the grounds of CBS, Midleton, this Saturday, August 24. The event, in its fifth year, is a 24 hour community celebration which honours those affected by cancer.
Was Clive concerned being in hospital so long?
“There were no alarm bells ringing at all,” he recalls. “I had my bags packed a few times to go home.
“Fidelma wasn’t concerned either. Along the way I was tested for lung cancer. But I was clear.”
But things got more serious after Clive had a bronchostomy.
“I remember going to surgery, I asked my doctor if could travel to Dublin the next day. My son, Kyle, was five, and we had tickets for the opening of the Aviva Stadium. Manchester United were playing Irish league. He was really excited about going to the match.”
Clive and Kyle were travelling in style.
“The lads at Keary’s had dropped me a brand new car the hospital for the trip. The doctor said if I didn’t mind a bit of pain, or the small drains inserted, then he’d allow me to go.”
But Clive wasn’t going anywhere.
“When I woke up, my lungs had collapsed,” he says.
Now alarm bells began to ring. His condition was serious.
“I was on a machine to breathe, with tubes and pipes everywhere,” says Clive.
“My lung capacity had dropped dramatically. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom. I was in bad pain.”
Clive and Fidelma were shocked when blood samples sent to Cambridge in England confirmed that Clive had a very rare cancer, malt lymphoma.
“It is a very rare soft tissue cancer, not lung cancer, but a stomach cancer,” he explains.
“It was the first time this type of cancer was seen in Cork.”
Clive received even worse news.
“The doctors broke the news to myself and Fidelma,” he says. “They told me to put my affairs in order before Christmas.
“That was pretty devastating to try and come to terms with. I was the dad of a small child, and to two other children. How would they feel? That was the inner torture.
“The loss was not me; it was the void left in their lives. The loss of a father and all that entails.”
He had to put his house in order.
“Fidelma is very strong, and we have amazing family,” says Clive.
“I like being organised the best of times and I started making lists, arranging things, trying to make sure my family would all be OK. I wanted to get Fidelma a smartphone for emails, etc.”
He had other things on the list.
“I had a goal to go to Paris in March with Fidelma for my birthday.
“I was going to put my boat in the water too and leave it there. I had visions of heading out to sea. That was my Nirvana.”
He began another voyage.
“Being wheeled from the respiratory ward to oncology for treatment was like doing the Green Mile,” says Clive.
“The medical staff in CUH were brilliant. I couldn’t wash myself or get up. The nurses were unbelievable, showing me genuine compassion. I was well looked after.”
Clive had a good outlook.
“I never felt in my heart that cancer would take me,” he says. “I wasn’t going to succumb to it.”
Christmas came and went. In March, he took his wife to Paris.
“It was fabulous,” says Clive. “I love history and it was great, just the two of us.”
He looked to the future.
“We set ourselves goals. I aimed to keep my job, working part-time and then back full-time.”
After a shaky start, the treatment began doing its job.
“The chemotherapy worked,” says Clive.
“I could see the lungs were now only half clouded. Things were getting better.
“My oncologist said this is as good as it gets. It is incurable and it remains terminal. If it comes back, we can’t cure it.”
He rolled with the punches.
“Hearing this was a sucker punch all right,” admits Clive.
“I was told I was looking at a maximum of five years. I found the timelines difficult to deal with.
“In our industry, it goes in three-year cycles, and people come back for one year car services. The clock was ticking in my head.”
Something else was ticking in his head.
“I never saw myself in a bad position,” says Clive. “I never have and I never will. I carry cancer around on my shoulders. I think about it every day, but I don’t let it in. I have it and I live with it.”
And he survives it.
“I have no tangible lump or tumour. I visualise it in my lungs,” says Clive.
“Cancer is the easiest part. Living with the post-chemo effects is the difficult part.
“I always saw myself as surviving,” adds Clive.
And he always saw himself involved in the Relay For Life celebration.
“I heard about it at the Rugby Club after watching a match. I remember I was starving and I smelled burgers cooking. I wandered into the Midleton College sports’ grounds and I knew people. The place was alive with balloons and razzamatazz. I said I must get involved and now I’m on the committee for Relay For Life.”
He walks a different mile now from the Green Mile.
“I walk the opening lap and Ryana, my youngest daughter, walks with me. The opening ceremony does something to me that affects me. It is the only time as a cancer survivor that I feel that emotion. It allows me to be someone who is sick and in pain. Otherwise my defenses are up; I am the dad, the businessman, and I live with it.”
He lives with a positive mental attitude.
“Eight years in, my lung capacity dropped to 62%, but I can function fine. I have a lot of back pain since hurting my back and I get immense pain.
“Every day is a battle. I cope with it, and I never miss a day at work. But walking up hills is a bit of a problem for me!”
He has no problem with the bends on the road. “I’m involved in the east Cork Hot-Rod Club,” says Clive.
“And I’m back racing myself.”
Life is good for Clive, Fidelma, Nicole, Kyle, and Ryana.
“My outlook is positive,” says Clive.
“I have six monthly medical check-up appointments.”
He is a man who doesn’t look back. He looks forward.
“I had made my peace with God and with the world. But I never gave up. You can’t accept fate. That’s for sure. You make your own. Never give up. Life is tremendous. My family is everything to me. I am so fortunate.”
Relay For Life, celebrating the lives of cancer survivors, remembering loved ones lost to cancer and to fight back against it, raising funds for The Irish Cancer Society, takes place in Midleton CBS grounds on Saturday August 24. Email: email@example.com. Contact the Irish Cancer Society Freephone:1800-200-700 or Cork office: 021-4840597.