From a Cough to a Cancer

Throughout 2021-2022, I hadn’t been feeling great and had developed a dry cough that annoyingly wouldn’t go away. It lasted months and eventually I went to the GP for advice. I had an idea that the cough might be connected to my stomach problems.

For decades, since I was a child, I suffered with burning pains in my stomach. When I was 11 years of age, my mother took me to the family doctor in Beaumont, North Dublin who said “he has all the symptoms of someone with a hiatus hernia but only old people usually get that, he’s far too young..” This was dismissed at the time. I don’t know what they thought it was.

Little did we know but his prognosis was actually spot on. It was years later as I had scans that I was properly diagnosed with hiatus hernia which meant my stomach was producing too much acid and causing the lining to burn away due to a broken muscle which normally controls the flow of acid. Very painful.

On one occasion, as I drove down the road the pain was so bad I remember I had to pull the car over and get out. I was doubled over. I thought my stomach was going to explode. Most times when I drank cold milk the pain would dissipate. I suffered with this pain mostly throughout my twenties before it was properly diagnosed after a scan. It would get particularly bad when I was stressed or if I drank alcohol sometimes. This could be controlled by taking an ant acid tablet everyday for the rest of my life.

During the 90’s, I visited a specialist consultant with regular visits and scans every couple of years. I was encouraged to take the tablet and to ‘change my life style’. At the time, I was a smoker and occasional drinker. I worked in a fast paced sports retail chain and didn’t take much notice of my health. Looking back, I consumed too many cigarettes, cans of coke and mars bars for snacks. Until one day after one of these scans, my consultant sat me down in his office and with a serious look on his face said “David, your scans are back and the results are not good. From this day on you dont smoke or drink !” I looked at him in disbelief thinking in my head “yeah, right” but as I left the office, it soon dawned on me how serious the situation was and I decided to quit smoking there and then. Quitting smoking after 13 years wasn’t easy particularly as I did it cold turkey.

Back to 2022 and the cough. My first visit to the GP lead to nothing, even though I asked ‘should I have another endoscopy?’ I was told, I would be wasting the hospitals time, the cough was not connected to my stomach.

Roll on 6 months later and I visit a different doctor with the same cough in the same GP office who agreed to an endoscopy as a precaution. The scope was scheduled for July.

A month later, while out walking on my lunch break, I received a call on my mobile from a nurse in the Hospital who said they ‘found something’ in the scope and could I come in the following week to discuss. Alarm bells went off Big Time but I told no one except my line manager in work of this call as I had to take time off and I secretly arranged the visit with the hospital. I thought, until everything was 100% confirmed, there was no need to alarm and worry anyone.

Discussing the July endoscopy report, in his office, the surgeon accompanied by two nurses explained the results did not look good as they had seen a growth which he concluded was going to need further investigation but they were confident the polyp’s were carcinogenic from what they could see. I had to ask him “does this mean I have cancer?” to which he replied “Yes, from what we can see”.

He went on to explain that I would need to have another follow up endoscopy with his team which would confirm what they suspected. In the event, it was cancer then we would have two options 1) a procedure to remove it using an endoscope depending on maturity or 2) an oesophagectomy. Although keyhole surgery, this procedure would be radical he explained using a diagram on the wall. Although I felt sick, I took this information rather calmly and left his office agreeing to the follow up endoscopy.

Three weeks later, I walked into Beaumont Hospital for my second endoscopy of the year.

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