Cork Garda’s cancer fight a story of endurance and finding humour in dark moments

Bandon-based community garda Damian White found humour in the dark moments after he was diagnosed with stage-three tongue cancer in 2018. Breda Graham talks to him
Cork Garda’s cancer fight a story of endurance and finding humour in dark moments

Garda Damian White had much of his tongue removed and rebuilt and had six weeks of radiotherapy.

A West Cork garda has shared his cancer experience, during a webinar hosted by Darrara Community Centre.

The webinar explored topics ranging from internet safety and cyberbullying to health and overcoming adversity.

Bandon-based community garda, Damian White, was diagnosed with tongue cancer in October 2018.

Garda White had been feeling fine and had no health issues. He had a slight hardness on the side of his tongue, which hadn’t gone away after a couple of weeks, and he was referred to the dental hospital in Cork University Hospital, and diagnosed with stage-three tongue cancer.

Though he turned his diagnosis and treatment into a success story, he said the news initially felt like an out-of-body experience.

Deciding to keep his diagnosis private, he kept what he told others on his terms, so he could control the narrative.

Things moved fast following diagnosis, and Garda White was booked in for an operation, in Dublin, within four weeks.

During the nine-and-a-half hour operation, Garda White had 50% to two-thirds of his tongue removed and rebuilt, and had the lymph nodes on both sides of his neck removed, as well as undergoing a tracheostomy, which meant he could not eat, drink, or talk for 10 days.

“Following a few weeks at home over Christmas, I started the new year in Dublin, on January 2, for six weeks of radiotherapy, which finished in mid-February, and I returned to work on light duties seven weeks later,” he said.

Garda White said that his body was well-prepared, because of the natural adjustment he made in relation to his diet and being more aware of his health in general.

He said that humour also helped him in his recovery and that “there’s always humour to be found in dark moments; sometimes you just have to look for it”.

“Like the good friend of mine who sent me a photo of a lovely pint of Guinness, six days after the operation; it was a Saturday, that was the night that Ireland beat the All Blacks in Chicago,” Garda White said. 

“He was out having a fine time and that was his way of showing me what I was missing out on, but, in many ways, it was great to be treated normally and not to be pitied,” he said.

Garda White said that accepting his situation and speaking about his experience helped him to cope.

“What could you do? Life deals us a certain hand of cards, but we all have control over how we play those cards,” he said.

“A lot of my work, as a community guard, involved giving talks in schools, and I hope that my experience will show students, and other people, that we can all overcome adversity; none of us will go through life without facing personal challenges.”

Garda White thanked his family for their support and highlighted that “when a diagnosis of cancer comes to a household, it affects the entire household”.

He also thanked the healthcare staff who looked after him and thanked his colleagues in An Garda Síochána. He encouraged others who may be going through a similar journey to persevere and endure, and to “just keep going”.

“Put your energy into what you can control, worry less about what you can’t,” Garda White said. “Like Covid, do the basics: Wash your hands, wear your mask, keep your distance. If you have a bad day, that’s okay, allow yourself that: Brighter days will come,” he said.

Darrara Community Centre is raising funds, together with the Clonakilty Daffodil Day, for critical services for adults and children with cancer.

All donations will go to the Irish Cancer Society.

To donate, visit www.idonate.ie/fundraiser/11399454_darrara-daffodil-day-fundraiser-2021.html.

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