GRENAGH locals are rallying around a local father who lost the ability to breathe independently after a routine operation.
Derek Osborne, who lives in the area with his wife Gillian and three children, has been living with a tracheostomy tube for a year.
Hopes were dashed when the father-of-three learned he will have to spend the rest of his life fitted with the device which acts as an artificial airway.
Nonetheless, the family refuse to give up.
With enough funds, Derek hopes to travel abroad in search of treatment that will allow him to return to his old life, free of tubes.
Noreen Treacy is coordinating the Help Fund the Fight event to raise vital funds for Derek on Friday at 9.30pm in the Village Inn Bar, Grenagh.
The father-of-three was diagnosed with head and neck cancer four years ago. However, it wasn’t his disease but the side effects of radiotherapy treatment that left him with inflammation on his internal organs. His wife Gillian revealed how it all began.
“I can remember seeing men waiting for radiotherapy with marks on their faces,” she recalled.
“Derek explained that they were burns from the radiation. I remarked to Derek that it was great he hadn’t suffered any of these burns.
“What I didn’t realise was he was being burned from the inside. The resulting inflammation left Derek with polyps on his vocal chords”
Life took an unexpected turn for Derek following surgery to remove the polyps.
“Derek’s breathing became so distressed under anaesthetic, he was on his way to die on the table,” Gillian explained.
“That was when the emergency tracheostomy had to be fitted. We never expected him to come out of the operation with it. It was all very unexpected.”
Derek’s wife Gillian listed the events leading up to the operation.
“A lump came up on his right side but it was thought he had swollen glands,” she said.
“Derek was given antibiotics but within a week it had grown to the size of a golf ball. At its worst, you could actually make it out from the other side of the room.”
At the end of February, a biopsy was taken that confirmed it was head and neck cancer.
Derek couldn’t start treatment — a combined course of radiation and chemotherapy — until the following June as the scar had to be fully healed.
Derek highlighted the effects of his tracheostomy.
“I used to train the under-eights soccer. Most of my day is spent on a machine just to keep me alive.
“I loved mowing the lawn but I can’t even do that anymore. If anything enters the tube I could choke. I can only walk a short distance on flat ground.
“Basically, all my breathing from the neck up is gone. Even if I lift the blankets above my neck at night they block the tube and prevent me from breathing.
“If I sneeze everything comes out through the tracheostomy. Basically, any secretion comes out through the tube. It means I go through so many t-shirts that have be binned by the end of the week.”
Derek said he often finds the tracheostomy more difficult than his cancer battle.
“My diagnosis came as a huge shock. The hardest thing was telling my children. It’s not like you’re telling them about a broken toe or finger. This was life and death.
“However, in a way, I preferred the cancer to the tracheostomy.
“I could fight the cancer. It was a means to an end, but the tracheostomy just feels like an end. What’s so unfair is I fought this fight for so long only to be left with this. After everything we went through this is the kickback.”
Derek has faced adversity on more than one occasion.
“I was changing my tube in the toilets of Fota Wildlife Park when a man approached me and told me I was disgusting,” he said of one day out with his children.
“I didn’t retaliate, only because there were children there. It’s hard to believe that people in this day and age could be so closed minded.
“With that said, the majority of people have been brilliant. We are so grateful to Noreen for organising this event. I also got a lovely card from an old neighbour. Most people are incredibly kind.”
Gillian chipped in to tell of the boundless support from her own mum and children.
“They realise that because of Derek’s situation money is tight. They have never asked us for anything. When I ask Craig if he needs new runners he’ll say no. That’s just the sort of children they are.
“My mum Kathleen Hornibrook has also been a huge support and looked after the kids while I took Derek to his treatment.”
Gillian praised her husband for his positive attitude.
“During his fifth chemo session he suffered toxic poisoning,” she said.
“His kidneys were failing but he has no recollection of that day. No matter what Derek goes through he never complains. You will never hear him talking about any of these issues in front of the kids.”
Derek refuses to let illness dominate his life.
“I think the important thing is to never give up. There are days when I hate life. I watch people on their way to work and going about their day and I wish that could be me again but you can never give up.”
To book tickets for the Help Fund the Fight fundraiser call 085-7301311. Admission is €10 with finger food and spot prizes up for grabs on the night.
Those wishing to make a donation to the Help Fund the Fight cause can do so using the following account details.
IBAN: IE54 AIBK 9340 5423 3320 96 BIC: AIBKIE2D