‘I worry more about other people than I do myself’
Brave Stephen urges men to get check-up in Men's Health Week
A chance visit to his GP led to a Ballinagh man being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. He’s now using his story to urge others to get themselves checked.
Stephen Gormley now lives in Gibbstown in Co Meath with his wife Mary and two children Maeve (3) and Patrick (1).
Stephen had gone to his GP as he had a pain in his leg and was referred for an ultrasound.
“They did an ultrasound scan and they focused where the pain was for maybe two minutes,” says Mary. “They were 15 minutes then on the other side.
“Later that evening they sent us the photos of the scan and there was a note underneath ‘mass found in right groin’. Stephen put his hand down and actually found the tumour. He hadn’t realised it was there.”
A biopsy followed and a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was given in early May. Almost 900 people are diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma every year in Ireland, according to the Irish Cancer Society.
For Stephen and his family, it’s been an intense few months.
“When I had the biopsy I was originally told five days before I had the results,” says Stephen. “We tried to track it down then. It was a whole week that had passed. They said the results had been sent to Beaumont for extra testing. Beaumont is ‘cancer central’ so I kind of had it in my head then that I had it. Everything after that wasn’t too bad.
“It was the whole not knowing. It kind of eats away at you.”
Once he got it, Stephen accepted his diagnosis relatively quickly and his medical team were anxious to begin treatment. He’s already had his first Chemo session, with sessions scheduled every three weeks. An initial round of six sessions were prescribed.
Mary says it was a lot of information for them to take in but they’re glad of the help they got from the medical team.
“As soon as they said this is Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma they said ‘this is what we’re going to do next’. They just gave us all the information. It was straight to chemo, there’s a chance he could become infertile because of the chemo. He’s definitely going to lose his hair because it’s an aggressive cancer.”
For Stephen, after the initial diagnosis, it was telling his loved ones and those around him that he found most difficult.
“They never expect someone that’s 24 to turn around and say they have cancer. Especially because I look healthy, I don’t look sick. It was a surprise for a lot of other people.
“The hardest part was seeing people’s reactions. I don’t worry about myself, I worry more about other people than I do myself so that was the worst part about it.”
The chemotherapy and the side effects it brings have been a challenge for Stephen. Nine hours in hospital, followed by nausea and the need to isolate to protect his weakened immune system in the days after are difficult. This is then coupled with the dietary and lifestyle changes he’s had to introduce.
Sugary drinks and sweets are gone, with his favourite pasta dishes now replaced with wholewheat pasta.
“I like rice cakes so I eat the wholegrain rice cakes. They kind of suppress [the appetite] a bit but there’s no taste,” he laughs.
Stephen wants to use his diagnosis to urge others, particularly men, to get checked and not put off going to the doctor.
“Like reaching out to the Celt; I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it so other people might read this and think ‘right, he had no symptoms, he is young but he still got checked’.”
Mary agrees: “A lot of people his age go ‘ah I’ll be grand’. They’ll say ‘I’ll leave it. It’ll go away’.”
With Stephen being unable to work while undergoing treatment, the Gormleys have set up a GoFundMe page to try meet costs. Medication costs and the increasing price of fuel have meant hospital trips have become more costly.
“There’s the added cost of going to the hospital all the time,” says Mary. “Diesel is mental money at the minute. There’s the cost of parking at the hospital, the cost of his medication.
“It was €187 but we only had to pay €80 because of the drug payment scheme card. It’s still a lot every three weeks.”
Friends and family have also rallied around Stephen, with members of his car club Boost Nation shaving their heads in solidarity. Other fundraisers have also been organised, some as far away as Germany.
Any money raised by those or the GoFundMe page will go towards covering Stephen’s medical costs, with money left over being donated to charity.
Donations can be made at: https://gofund.me/2e561931