TEENAGER Cian Twomey is not just popular in his school and in the community where he lives; he is popular with the staff of Cork University Hospital too.
“The cleaning lady put her head in the door of his room and said; ‘you look better today. I am happy with you!’” says Cian’s mum, Jennifer.
“The nursing staff, the catering staff and the cleaning staff all loved Cian. The nurses fell in love with him. They are mad about him.”
So are his family, friends and the community who are all rallying around him.
Cian, 18, who is from the small village of Ballinacurra, near Midleton, has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Paraganglioma. He needs to travel to Rotterdam for essential treatment.
“The cancer is so rare that Cian can’t be treated here in Ireland,” says Jennifer.
Cian has everyone in his corner.
“His twin brother, Troy, stayed in the hospital all week in the bed next to him,” says Jennifer.
They are not identical but Jennifer says: “They do look very alike and are very close. Cian and Troy talk a lot together. We are a very close knit family. Cian is close to his older brother, Evan, as well and to Kelly, his younger sister.”
Cian, a Leaving Cert student in CBS Midleton, is your typical teenager. A Chelsea supporter, he loves hanging out with his friends, going to the gym, playing hurling and GAA.
Cian gets on well in school and he was looking forward to the 6th year summer holiday with all his mates later in the year.
The care-free young man didn’t bank on getting cancer.
“The holiday was booked and the deposits paid,” says Jennifer.
“Cian can’t go on the holiday now. Troy won’t be going either. They were both looking forward to it.”
Jennifer never dreamed that her healthy, happy-go-lucky son could be diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer.
“In the space of three months; all our lives changed,” says Jennifer.
“This should have been Cian’s year; at 18, he had the 6th year holiday to look forward to and his Grads later in the year.”
She tells me how Cian, a healthy, active lad, began complaining of pain.
“Cian was complaining with a pain in his back earlier this year, in February,” says Jennifer.
“He complained so much that we changed his bed. We thought that might be the trouble. Cian loves playing hurling and going to the gym. He is an active lad like most boys his age. Then, I imagined that he had strained or pulled a muscle slightly from playing sport.”
Jennifer never imagined anything more sinister.
“Within two days, Cian was in really bad pain,” she recalls.
“We went to the acute assessment ward in CUH and Cian was scheduled to have a scan. At that stage, things didn’t look very good.
“Cian underwent a biopsy of his liver, blood and urine tests, as well as observation. No symptoms showed up.
“I thought perhaps Cian had a bad kidney infection.”
The tests continued.
“Cian had a series of major scans over the next few weeks.
“He was at home and he appeared to be perfect, back at school and doing OK,” says Jennifer.
“Then he was injected with a special dye that came from Rotterdam. Dr Derek Power told us afterwards what was wrong. He put a name on it.”
Dr Power said the word cancer. Paraganglioma is a very rare and a very aggressive form of cancer. Cian has a tumour in his abdomen and one in his liver.
“It was a bit of a shock when Dr Power said cancer for the first time,” says Jennifer.
“The type of cancer is so rare that it cannot be treated in Ireland.
“Cian was very upset initially, but then he got over it. He is a very positive person. He was admitted to CUH on April 12 for a blood transfusion.”
More tests revealed that Cian needed chemo-therapy treatment straight away.
“The treatment was a bridge for him while waiting for confirmation from Rotterdam where he will receive radiation injections,” explains Jennifer.
Cian is holding his own.
“He was quite low when his appetite was down,” says Jennifer.
“He didn’t like the hospital food, so I brought his meals up to him. It was like keeping two houses going, making sure everyone was fed and looked after properly.”
Jennifer didn’t stray far from her son’s side.
“Cian’s bloods were low and his complexion was an unhealthy yellow,” says Jennifer.
“His cheeks were hollow and sunken. He rallied though, when he got a blood transfusion and Dr. Power explained that the rounds of chemotherapy treatment would strengthen him.
“He never moaned or complained during the course of any of his treatments. As his mother, I can see when he looks better today more than yesterday.
“Cian is upbeat. Even though his energy levels are down and he gets tired more easily; his spirits are good,” says Jennifer.
“He pushes himself to keep up. And he has had to grow up these past months. He says to his friend Craig, ‘I might get sicker; so I will keep going now’.
“Cian is on antibiotics, steroids and medications to protect the lining of his stomach and to stop him getting sick.”
And he is a typical teenager.
“I have to keep tabs on him and make sure he takes his medication,” says Jennifer.
“It is easy for him to get confused with all the tablets. One day I had to go into town after him when he forgot to take a tablet — 18-year-olds don’t always realise the importance of taking regular medication.”
Jennifer is ever-vigilant.
“I check him regularly during the night. I make sure that he doesn’t sweat too much. It’s crucial so that his immune system isn’t threatened or that his blood levels drop. But Cian is very positive and he is in good form.”
He keeps his friends close.
“He talks always to his friend Craig, his other friends and to his brothers, like all teenagers” says Jennifer.
“They have their own talk, their own craíc and laugh.”
The pals made plans.
“He said to them; when I am better we’ll do this and we’ll do that,” says Jennifer.
“Cian never moans and he always took things in his stride, plodding away. He is a quiet lad; totally blasé.”
Cian has one concern.
“He was worried about losing his hair,” say Jennifer.
“But that hasn’t happened. We thought that his hair would start thinning, but it didn’t.”
There was a back-up plan.
“Troy had gone to Lifestyle Sports to buy a baseball cap for Cian,” says Jennifer. “Just in case Cian’s hair fell out.”
Rotterdam, Sweden and London were mooted as possibilities where Cian can get the essential treatment that he needs.
“When conformation was received from the cancer specialist in Rotterdam, a plan was made for Cian to travel there,” says Jennifer.
“Cian’s treatment will involve a series of regular radiation injections. Each injection will cost €15,000. We don’t know yet how many injections Cian will need. And, obviously, he will have to have a family member accompanying him to Rotterdam.
“His step-dad, Jamie, works around the clock, seven days a week. I gave up my job for now to be with Cian.”
Family, friends, neighbours and the wider community are working tirelessly on Cian’s behalf. An array of events over the coming months are planned to raise the much-needed funds for Cian’s care.
“Everyone has been amazing,” says Jennifer.
“I have amazing friends. Cian’s school has been fantastic. And he has the option to sit his Leaving Cert if he feels up to it.
“My friend, Deirdre, and so many others, are organising events to raise funds for Cian so that he can travel to Rotterdam for his treatment.
“The businesses in Ballinacurra and in Midleton are offering their support without being asked. They approached us with offers to help.
“The chip shops in Midleton have boxes displayed with Cian’s photograph. He says ‘are they having a laugh’ when he notices a box in the local chipper. It is really great to see the town pulling together.”
Jennifer says the financial burden of cancer can be hard.
“It can put pressure on families.”
How is Jennifer holding up?
“The reality hits when you see your child getting chemotherapy,” says Jennifer.
“It is hard to take in and have to deal with it.” Jennifer, like her son, keeps the bright side out.
“I laugh and I cry,” says Jennifer.
“Sometimes it’s not easy to juggle everything. I will take any day that is a good day. I take each day as it comes. But it is the first thing I think of every morning and the last thing that I think of every night.”
UPCOMING FUNDRAISING EVENTS IN AID OF CIAN’S CARE:
Friday, May 5: DJ Steve 80s disco in the Mad Monk, Midleton.
Saturday, May 20: Spinathon — venue in Midleton to be decided.
Saturday/ Sunday May 20 and 21: Church collection.
Friday/ Saturday May 26/27: Darts tournament at Colbert’s Ballinacurra.
Saturday, May 27: Fanta is doing a five hour non-stop spinathon outside the courthouse in Midleton, 10am to 3pm.
Thursday, June 8: Coffee morning in O’Meara’s Ballinacurra plus teen music festival.
Sunday June 25: Barbecue, Shortt’s, Castlemartyr.
To donate to Care for Cian, see Facebook page, Cian’s Care.
Bank details: Permanent tsb. Account name: Cian’s Care. Permanent tsb. BIC: 1PBS1E2D iBan: 1E151PBS99705 262110078.
There is also a GoFund me page, where you can make a donation, see https://www.gofundme.com/cians-care