THE scourge of cancer can strike anybody, anytime, anywhere.
In the case of the Burns family from Cobh, prostate cancer struck not once, but three times, devastating three men.
“My Dad, Tim, in his mid-60s, is a former steelworker and he is a fine strong man,” says Ger, a father of four, who has raised €4,568 in aid of the Mercy Cancer Appeal by taking on the hillwalking adventure, The Four Peaks Challenge.
“When Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, it was a bit of a shock for all of us,” says Ger.
“Fortunately it was caught in time and Dad was treated successfully in the Mercy Hospital.”
Each year, over 3,300 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Ireland. It is the second most common cancer in men after skin cancer.
“Because Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer and it was caught in time to be treated successfully, I decided to get checked out too,” says Ger.
Ger got a big shock when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and an even bigger shock, when his younger brother, Kieran, was also diagnosed with the disease.
“It was a huge shock to the family,” says Ger.
“My GP took my blood initially and then I was referred to Paul Sweeney in the Mercy who confirmed there were no tumours.
“He did a biopsy to see if any tissue was affected in the area.
“The samples didn’t come back 100%. Another biopsy showed that the cancer was there.
“Mr Sweeney discussed treatment options with me and he told me to think about them.”
Ger and his wife Hazel had planned a trip to EuroDisney with their children, Rachel, Kayleigh, Luke and Ava, in November 2013.
“I asked if I could go ahead with our travel plans. I didn’t want my diagnosis to be a burden or a worry for my family. He told me to go ahead with the holiday.”
But Ger was worried.
“I had seen the tough road my Dad had to go down. I knew what was involved in the tough treatment for prostate cancer.”
Ger had to face the same journey.
“When I came back from the holiday, it was recommended that I go ahead and have the surgery to remove the cancer cells,” says Ger.
“He explained that I was young and strong and that I was a good candidate for surgery.”
Ger was a chip off the old block.
“Dad had gone through tough treatment, radiation therapy and radical prostatectomy, and he had come out the other side, making a full recovery. It was a long road,” says Ger.
“I was out of action for six to eight months after surgery. When Kieran was diagnosed with prostate cancer as well, we learned that the disease is a brother to brother thing, not necessarily hereditary.”
The Burns men all supported each other in their fight against the disease.
“I suffered a lot of side effects after treatment, but I had great support from family, our friends and my work-mates,” says Ger.
“The staff at the Mercy Hospital are amazing. One of the front-line troops, clinical nurse, Paudie Aherne, gave me advice.
“He said, ‘forget about your wife and kids. Focus on yourself and get this thing out of the way.’ It was the strangest thing to hear,” says Ger.
“But in a way; it made perfect sense.”
Ger did what he had to do to get back to being a husband and father and to get back to work.
Down the road; he had other plans.
“Luckily, Dad, myself and Kieran, were all successfully treated for prostate cancer,” says Ger.
Now they could get back to living normal lives again.
“I decided to try and get as strong as I could,” says Ger.
He decided to do something amazing for the Mercy Cancer Appeal.
“Some of my colleagues at work supported Focus Ireland, doing the Four Peaks challenge. I asked them what was involved and did some research of my own.
“Mike Gibney from Westport Hill-Walking Club was a great help doing all he could to help out.”
In 2016, after receiving the all-clear, Ger was game-ball to take on the Four Peaks Challenge, climbing the highest mountain in each of Ireland’s four provinces.
It was no mean feat but then, Ger, with the strong Burns genes, had taken on prostate cancer and overcome it.
He had another hurdle to face.
“I don’t like heights!” says Ger, laughing.
“It wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, was it?
“Prostate cancer wasn’t a trip down a yellow-brick road,” says Ger.
“But I got there in the end. Dad and Kieran did too. We’re all as healthy as horses.”
And there was always some help from his friends. The troops were ready and waiting.
“James Walsh, Great Island Cross-fit, said he was in,” says Ger. “He said that he’d love to do it. Other pals of mine, my brother-in-law Greg Hamilton, Eddie Courtney, who had had prostate cancer too, and Kevin McCourt, all signed up for the challenge.
“We all trained hard and we got to grips with the logistics of doing the Four Peaks Challenge.”
The community of Cobh rowed in behind the men taking on the brave challenge for a worthy cause.
“Everybody was just fantastic,” says Ger.
“Especially when they knew the challenge was in aid of the Mercy Hospital. Great Island Motors, the Commodore Hotel, Cobh Ramblers, Fanatics Sportswear, Garveys Supervalu, all helped us in any way they could.
“Great Island Motors provided transport for us every weekend when we were heading to Kerry to trek mountains, Supervalu provided us with fruit, water and protein bars.
“The amount of people who pulled together, supporting all our fund-raisers to make the challenge happen was phenomenal.”
The community provided might back-up for the five mountaineers, who were five brave musketeers.
“I don’t know about that!” says Ger.
“My wife is listening to me talking and she’s saying; would you listen to that fella!”
But Hazel, like everyone in Cork and in Munster, knows how much the mammoth efforts of Ger and others like him, help support and maintain the valuable services that the Mercy Hospital provides to patients and their families.
“The Mercy staff are fantastic team of people,” says Ger.
“They save lives.”
They saved the lives of Tim, Ger, and Kieran Burns.
“Kieran often holds coffee mornings at the naval base for the Mercy,” says Ger.
“We are all very grateful to the team in the Mercy Hospital.”
Ger is surrounded by a good team.
“Two of my kids are planning on doing the Four Peaks Challenge with me.”
The family is fit and healthy.
“Life is good,” says Ger.
“Hazel and I enjoy running together. She loves me to death!”
Life is simple.
“Getting up and putting your feet on the ground in the morning. Your family. That’s what it’s all about in the end.”