Last year, Jamie Cremins was 25-years old and just returning to work after recovering from a serious bout of illness when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, cancer of the lymphatic system.
“At 25, you should be living in the moment, you should be fit as a fiddle but I was stuck in bed, not knowing what I could do because of my illness,” Jamie, now 26 and from Castleisland, Co Kerry, tells the Echo.
“It was a bit of a nuisance alright, to be fair,” he jokes.
He had just returned to his job in Lidl in Macroom following a break from work while he recovered from surgery when he noticed a golf-ball sized lump on his neck.
“I thought it was just swollen glands, nothing major. I had very bad sweats as well at the time, I’d have to change the bed sheets during the night.”
“I went into hospital and they gave me a biopsy and they said: ‘Yeah, you’ve Hodgkin's Lymphoma’ and that was really it.”
“I had Crohn’s disease before and it was pretty bad. I had to have surgery and I had to get an ileostomy bag, so I was out of work for four months. I couldn’t really walk because I was cut up the middle of my stomach. I had that reversed about five months later but then a couple of months later, I got sick with cancer and that was hard. I didn’t have much money after being out of work.”
He wasn't prepared for the financial implications of his illness, he explains.
“When I was off, I was getting €188 a week. It sounds fine, but if you have a flat to rent, if you have a phone bill, if you need to tax your car to get in and out, electricity, even buying food. Simple things like that.”
Last year, Jamie was one of 531 people and families supported by the Marie Keating Foundation Comfort Fund, a fund that proves assistance to those receiving cancer treatment who find themselves in financial difficulty as a result of their illness.
It's one of only a few such funds in Ireland that aim to help cancer patients struggling financially to pay for their medical costs, bills, transport and childcare expenses.
Now in remission, Jamie cannot thank the Foundation enough for the money he received from the Comfort Fund, as it helped him maintain his independence during a vital time in his fight against cancer; while he went through six rounds of chemotherapy at Cork University Hospital (CUH).
“I had a lift to CUH the first day but I just felt like I had no independence. So with that money, I was able to tax my car and that got me in and out, besides bothering people. That’s the one thing you really hate when you are sick, bothering people, you don’t want to be too much of a burden.”
Having his car meant a lot to him when he was sick, he adds, as it meant having a bit of freedom when he was getting sick of being cooped up.
“I was off work, living in an apartment and that’s all I was looking at, those four walls because you can’t really go out when it's windy because you’ve no immune system.”
"But even being able to go out in the car, go to the beach and sit down and relax. You’ve the comfort of your car to go places, not having to rely on trains and buses. Even if I went on trains or a bus, there would have been a chance I’d pick up a cough or a cold and I would have had to have been admitted to hospital because the fact I had no immune system.”
“With the car, I was able to go home, I was able to go see my parents or to see my girlfriend and her parents, come back, see my friends, see the people who look after me. It meant the world to me. Number one to get me to chemo but also to get me home to Kerry from Cork.”
Going through chemotherapy is tough enough without having money issues to top it off, he adds.
"There are days when you wake up and you just don’t want to go. I was getting sick, the thought of going in would make my stomach turn. I didn’t have much money because I was out of work so I had to get people to drop me in and again I was feeling like a burden. So the money the Marie Keating Foundation gave me, from the Comfort Fund, it was a huge boost.”
“It was tough but the thing is, I’m not the worst off. I’ve no kids, I can’t even imagine if I was married and had a mortgage and two kids if you’re struck down with cancer, those people need a lot more. I needed it myself, don’t get me wrong, but people like that are suffering a lot more.”
However, the Marie Keating Foundation is concerned with the increased number of applications for the Comfort Fund for next year. Currently, support for this fund is only provided to the Foundation through corporate donations from companies like myLotto24, Marks and Spencer Ireland and Homestead.
"We have seen a huge increase in the demand on the Comfort Fund and would not have been able to award these vital grants without their ongoing support,” Marie Keating Foundation CEO Liz Yeates said.
For Jamie, this fund, his family and friends and the excellent care he received from his specialist Dr Deville O'Shea and the nurses at the Dunmanway Unit at CUH helped him through his treatment.
“All of the nurses above in the Dunmanway Unit, just unbelievable. I mean, I know it’s their job but they really go the extra mile to help you through.
"My parents are great, they really looked after me. I’m fine now but with their help, and my girlfriend Emma as well. When you are sick it’s almost like you’re trapped in your own body because your body is failing but it’s your friends, your family, your girlfriend or your boyfriend who help to keep you going.”