WHEN Togher man, Pat Barrett suffered from severe heartburn, he thought it was the result of a combination of very cold weather and eating very hot chips.
“It wasn’t like the usual bout of heartburn that I’d normally get,” recalls the 62-year-old taxi driver. “I was in a state of collapse with it.”
Pat’s journey with oesophageal cancer, in March 2010, took him down a difficult road.
“I’d like to forget all about it,” says Pat, who has three grown-up children. “But my intention is to share my experience with other people who may be on the same journey. There is help out there.”
When Pat came to the end of the road, he didn’t know which way to turn.
“After surgery and when I came out of hospital I was at a kind of a dead end,” says Pat.
“I was a bit despondent and I had been through a very scary ordeal. I survived and I realised that I was one of the lucky ones. You definitely need all the support that you can get. ”
Pat got in touch with the Oesophageal Cancer Fund, the national voice that represents oesophageal cancer sufferers in Ireland.
“They put me in touch with somebody that I could talk to,” says Pat.
“Jim Street and myself had been down the same road. We both shared what we had been through when we got cancer of the oesophagus. Jim is from Inishboffin and he gave me good advice and we chatted a lot together about our experience.”
Pat got back into the driving seat.
“I began to help myself little by little,” says Pat.
“I sourced a Mind Body and Spirit teacher who helped me come to terms with what happened to me and who helped me move forward. The sessions really helped me back on the road to recovery.”
That took a bit of doing?
“It sure did,” says Jim. “I thought I was done for. I prayed like hell!”
What’s the worst part of being diagnosed with oesophageal cancer?
“The shock,” says Jim. ”The shock is the worst. For yourself and of course for your family.”
Jim’s life as he knew it ground to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed.
A big, strong man — six feet 1 inch tall — he was never ill in his life.
“I was in the building trade before,” says Jim. “I often put down a floor in one day.”
He felt invincible.
Oesophageal cancer is one of the rarest cancers in Western countries, more prevalent in men over 60, though it affects people as young as 20 to 35.
Three times more men than women get this type of cancer. Pat was one of those men.
“I was told my cancer was not smoking-related,” says Pat, who used to smoke 20 cigarettes a day.
“My problem was nearer to the throat, not down lower.”
His gut feeling, though, was to get the horrific heart-burn checked out.
“I can still remember the night and the place when I got the awful attack of heart-burn,” recalls Pat.
“It was a freezing cold Saturday night. I was in between fares, parked on the Grand Parade. I got chips from the chipper on the corner.
“After eating them, I nearly collapsed from the heart-burn. I went to see the doctor the very next day.”
Pat had the scope to examine his oesophagus.
“I got tablets to ease the symptoms.” says Pat. “I got a bit of relief from them.”
Until the next time.
“The next bout of heart-burn was very bad,” says Pat.
“I was thinking I must have an ulcer. Now I was losing weight. It was noticeable. And I was tired for no reason. I had to have further tests in the hospital.”
Pat was knocked for six when a tumour was discovered. He felt like he was embarking on an endless roller-coaster ride.
“It was an awful shock,” says Pat. “When I found out it was cancer, I felt done for,” says Pat.
“How was I going to tell the family? There was a bigger shock in store for them.”
And how was he going to go through the rounds of chemotherapy treatments, followed by radiation treatment?
Apart from his physical condition, Pat’s mental condition had to go into over-drive to maintain
Lollipop Day runs March 3 to 4, volunteers will be selling lollies for €2 around the city and county for the Oesophageal Cancer Fund.