A Derry teacher who has survived cancer twice is undertaking a huge fundraising campaign in memory of his close friend who lost his life to the disease.
Sean O’Kane of St Joseph’s Boys’ School was diagnosed with testicular cancer in May 2013 at the age of just 33.
It was particularly frightening for him as his friend and colleague Damian Tracey had died from cancerous sarcoma in 2011.
“Damian was diagnosed in June and died in October,” he explained.
“He was just 31 and that was in a lot of people’s minds when I got my diagnosis.”
Sean received help and support from Damian’s wife Nuala and his family throughout his treatment, which began immediately after his diagnosis.
“I discovered a lump and I thought it could be cancer but I just put it off, and put it off, and put it off,” he said.
“I just kind of had a feeling that’s what it was and I was kind of in a panic.
“I talked about it with a couple of male friends but I certainly wouldn’t have mentioned the fear of cancer.
“They would have thought it was a sports injury.
“I kept it away from my family.”
Sean eventually went to see his GP, Dr McCallion at City View Medical, after he began experiencing pain and tenderness during a school trip to Alton Towers.
“I was due to play a game of indoor and I was feeling sore so I thought I need to get this seen to,” he said.
“I made an emergency appointment and I remember thinking to myself ‘I wonder is this an emergency?’.
Sean’s doctor had him admitted to Altnagelvin immediately and he underwent surgery two days later to have the lump removed.
It was not until after the operation that doctors confirmed the lump was cancerous.
Sean then completed chemotherapy, which saw him lose his hair within two weeks.
“I was very lucky that I had very, very few symptoms but losing my hair was a bit of an experience.
“The first week of chemo was ok, but one day I woke up with hair on my pillow so I shaved it all off then.
“It never came back the right way.”
Sean said the help of his family, friends, medical staff in the Cancer Centre in Belfast and the Sperrin Room in Altnagelvin along with District Nurses, the staff at his GP practice and Macmillan Cancer got him through the chemo.
He believed the treatment was working and attended the St Joseph’s formal in October and hoped to return to work by Christmas.
However, just days later he received the news the cancer had returned and spread to his lung.
“The doctors were very, very optimistic,” he explained.
“They said this can be combated.
“We’ll do everything we can.”
Sean began intense chemo on New Year’s Eve 2013 which involved being hooked up to a drip for 7 to 8 hours a day.
He was scheduled to undergo four rounds of treatment but after the third burst tests revealed he was cancer free.
Sean is now back at work teaching English and Drama at St Joseph’s but receives blood tests twice a year and annual CT scans to check the cancer has not returned.
“Some people would panic getting the tests done but I think it’s great,” he said.
“If there is something there it will be caught early.”
Throughout his treatment Sean was given strength by the gifts and prayers of well wishers who gave him relics and tinctures to aid his recovery.
“It makes you realise you aren’t going through this alone, “he explained.
He also stayed involved with school life at St Joseph’s as much as his health allowed.
Sean has now turned his attention to fundraising to help fight cancer and is captaining a team from St Joseph's ‘SJB Warriors’ at the upcoming ‘Relay for Life Legenderry’ in St Columb’s Park in June
“St Joseph’s has been badly affected by cancer,” he said.
“Damian was a teacher here and our former Vice Principal Kevin McCallion died from it and then you have myself and Anne Hutton who are survivors.
“Fundraising is so important.
“My mum lost her dad to lung cancer and he died a week or two after he was diagnosed.
“That was 30 years ago and that was the way it was back then.
“The more research that can be doe the more hope we have of beating this.”
This is the first time Derry has ever hosted the relay for life, which is billed as the world’s largest fundraising event.
The event is being organised by the Legenderry Cancer Research UK Committee, who also organised the ‘Slide On’ weekends in Shipquay Street.
For more information on Legenderry Relay for life event log on to www.relay.cancerresearch.uk.org search Facebook for Legenderry Cancer Research UK or follow them on Twitter @legenderryrelay
You can also contact the organising committee on 07967998136.
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