FORMER Clare hurling manager, Ger Loughnane, who was struck down by a bout of acute myeloid leukaemia last year, has said he was overwhelmed by all the support he received during his cancer treatment.
Ger, who steered the Clare hurlers to Munster and All-Ireland glory in 1995 and 1997, said doctors couldn’t believe his lungs were so strong for his age, which played a crucial part in his recovery.
He said receiving good wishes in the form of cards, letters and texts help cancer patients through difficult periods during their treatment.
He said at one stage, he had to get a nurse to respond to a huge volume of text messages he received while he was in St James’s Hospital, Dublin because his hand was so weak from texting. Ger said getting messages of support made a massive difference to him and gave him a huge lift.
“You just can’t thank those people enough and it would be impossible to write back to them because there were so many. Most of them don’t even give you their address. It was just great,” he said.
Commenting on the direct and indirect side-effects of cancer treatment, he said the big side-effect with chemotherapy is that it leaves you weak.
“It takes time for your stamina to come back again. It does come back gradually. It takes a lot of time before it comes back fully. There are days when you are in great form and there are days when you feel weak, when you are not as strong as you would like. Talking to a lot of people, they get frustrated as they feel they are not improving when they actually are.
“When you see how toxic the chemotherapy is and you realise how much has gone through your body over a six-month period, you wonder how your body survived it at all. It is no wonder you would be weak after it,” he said.
His biggest advantage, which was noticed by the doctors, is his impressive lung capacity, which was better than some people who are in their 20s. Doctors measured his lungs and oxygen intake every day and were astounded that he had such a great capacity at his age.
“The big danger is infection. Your lungs are crucial to fight infection. Your oxygen intake is vital for that. The one thing that is checked constantly is your lungs to see how strong you are. Your lungs are vital to ensure you are not gasping for air,” Ger explained.
When Ger first finished his treatment, he had monthly check-ups. This was extended to two months and now he is on a three-month cycle.
Ger, a star of the Clare team in the 1970s and ’80s, said he never asked the doctors what he should eat and just went back to eating what he had previously.
He isn’t on any tablets or medication of any type, which he acknowledges is great, compared to other illnesses where patients have to take a lot of medicine on a daily basis.
He said one of the big dangers after cancer treatment was the possibility that he wouldn’t put on weight, which could have been a problem. However, this hasn’t proven to be a problem for him and, in fact, he has to be careful not to put on too much weight.
A lot of cancer patients experience difficulty sleeping during and after treatment due to nightmares. “Some of the nightmares can be absolutely horrendous. As first, when you get nightmares, it can take you ages to get back to sleep again. After a while, you get used to it.
“The nightmares are usually about the sea coming in on top of you, or a fire or someone shooting you, or something like that, which may be a realistic thing too at times,” he joked.
“The doctor explained that your body and mind has gone through such a traumatic time, it is natural your mind will be affected. That is only a passing phase and once you realise that, there is no problem.”
He is disappointed with the lack of funding for cancer support centres, like Sláinte an Chláir in Kilnamona.
“Places like Sláinte an Chláir, which is giving vital, massive support for cancer patients, find it so hard to get funding. That is completely wrong. It is all because the pressure group isn’t there.”
Ger hopes that with more public-awareness events and more pressure put on public representatives, the Government will realise these centres are vital for people who had cancer.
“There is a vacuum or gap there after you leave the hospital following treatment and try to get back to work again. These support services are just crucial,” he concluded.