I was told I had a brain tumour

When Pat McCarthy from Bandon learned he had a brain tumour, he embarked on a journey of surgery and recovery. He tells CHRIS DUNNE about a Cork support group that helped him
I was told I had a brain tumour

HELPING HAND: “When I discovered that there was a brain tumour support group in Cork, I went along straight away,” says Pat

LIFE was ticking along nicely for Pat McCarthy. An outdoorsman and President of the Irish Hereford Breed Society, he was semi-retired and had no great worries.

Then, three years ago, the 69-year-old started to notice health problems.

“I began to feel more tired and I had niggling aches and pains in my muscles, especially in my knees,” says Pat, a father of three grown-up sons. “I was also sweating excessively which was worrying.

“I went to my GP who referred me for further tests to Mr O’Sullivan, who is an endocrinologist.”

What did he discover?

“Mr O’Sullivan took one look at my face and he said he was suspicious,” says Pat. “I have much more pronounced furrows on my forehead than most people.

“A distortion of the facial features is one of the signs of pituitary adenoma. My pituitary gland was producing too many hormones, which explained the excessive sweating.”

The diagnosis of a brain tumour was a shock for the then 66-year-old.

“An MRI scan in June confirmed that I had a tumour,” he says. “I aimed to look at the positive and what they could do. Further tests in October confirmed the tumour was contained. I saw it on the scan and it wasn’t a big one.

“It reminded me of a fried egg,” says Pat. “The yolk being the tumour in the middle of the pituitary gland. Fortunately it was benign.

“I put my trust in the medical people. I was to undergo transsphenoidal surgery, which is brain surgery performed through the nose, and sphenoid sinus to remove pituitary tumours.”

Pat was prepared to have the surgery. He opted to go to the Hermitage Clinic in Lucan, Dublin, for the operation.

“There was no other cancer present in my body. I was hopeful that the surgery scheduled for the following January would sort things out.”

The procedure, carried out by Dr Javadpour, went well. Soon, Pat was on his way home to Bandon.

“I had the surgery on Monday and I was home on Friday. I felt good. I think being a non-smoker, particularly having brain surgery, is a big plus. It lessens the risk of clotting for instance.”

Pat was vigilant.

“I had to be very careful that the facial area healed properly. The surgery I had was not far from the optic nerve. Luckily that wasn’t touched and my sight was not affected. I minded myself.

“I had to make sure I didn’t get a cold or flu. Sneezing was not a good idea and I couldn’t drive for six weeks.”

Pat’s children minded him too.

“My son, Carthach, was at home for Christmas,” says Pat. “He said he didn’t expect to be coming back again so soon! He helped out. So did my other two lads, Patrick and Conor.”

Had Pat any after effects?

“My joints were much freer. My hands used to lock in the mornings. Straight away I noticed the improvement in all my joints. The pains in my knees eased considerably.”

A check-up this year, when Pat had an MRI scan, went well.

“My consultant said things were OK, which was good to hear,” says Pat.

Living with a brain tumour brings concerns that other sufferers understand.

“When I discovered that there was a brain tumour support group in Cork, I went along straight away,” says Pat. “It was the first place that I met another person who was on a similar journey to me.

It felt good to talk about it. I found it helpful to open up about it. Some people had the same story; some people had a different story. Others don’t mention their experience, but they listen. It is helpful to speak about the illness in lay person’s terms.

“It is very important for the families as well,” says Pat.

“The person who is told they have a brain tumour seems to have more control over it. The relatives of the person seem to have less control. They don’t know what it is like to have a brain tumour or what it is like going through it. Meeting people on the same journey, with its ups and downs, makes it easier for the relatives of the patient.”

Everyone can have their own chat.

“We all meet as a group,” says Pat. “Then the patients remain in one room, while the relatives go to another room for their own discussion. People can open up about what it is like for them. For us, we can share how we are and how we are getting on, and talk about what we’ve been through.”

A common bond is formed.

“I have made great friends and great connections among the group,” says Pat. “Nobody says you are right or you are wrong. The support group offers a safe, comfortable environment to say; ‘Hello, how are you?’ It is a place to say; ‘I’m not great’, or ‘I’m doing OK’. The group is inclusive and non-judgemental,” says Pat.

“People from all walks of life come to the group. Often we have expert speakers along, like a dietician or a cranio-oesteopath, who offer valuable advice.”

“Since I joined the group, some people have died,” adds Pat, who battled prostate cancer a decade ago. “Not everyone survives.”

But he hasn’t looked back since his successful surgery.

“I like to share with every new person who comes to the brain tumour support group,” says Pat. “I take the positives out of that.”

Obviously, the knees are holding up well?

Pat laughs.

“I enjoy a bit of social dancing. It is good exercise and it makes me feel good too.”

The Irish Brain Tumour Support Group was launched in Cork in 2002 to cater for patients and their families in the Munster and South Leinster area.

It meets on the first Wednesday of the month from February to November, in the Chemotherapy Department Cork University Hospital at 7.30pm.

The group provides information on services and facilities available, offers emotional support and strategies of coping. There is also time for a cup of tea and an informal chat.

Contact Caroline Kane, chairperson. 087-1465742.

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