KEVIN Haugh hails from Doonaha and was involved with a running club back in Kilkee during the 1980s. Almost 10 years ago, he was asked back by the club to participate in a running event. When he decided to participate, he was on a high and was feeling great after training.
“When I came back from the training I said I’m feeling great and I said I think I’ll keep it up,” he said.
However, after showering, he noticed there was a little lump on his neck. He thought nothing too much of it at the time. When he went to his GP, he thought it would be a simple procedure, like removing a mole.
“I thought this was going to be an ‘I’ll do that next week’ situation. He put his hand on the telephone and made an appointment with a specialist and I heard him say ‘no I want to see him immediately’. He said to me, ‘I don’t want to alarm you and I’m just doing this as a precaution. I’d just prefer that it would be a thing of nothing’. That was December 8, 2004. I had seen the consultant on December 10 and I was in hospital on December 12. I had surgery the next day and a doctor came to my bed the next day and said ‘I’m very sorry there is a problem with your liver’. It hit me. The surgeon came back and said he won’t have any results for a week. It was a very long week,” he said.
Kevin received the diagnosis of having follicular lymphoma on December 21, 2004. He was told it was a malignant tumour and was non-hodgkin’s, the worst of the two types of this cancer. Having received the diagnosis, Kevin met promptly with Professor Gupta, who gave him the encouragement to keep a diary throughout his illness, something that would not only help him through it but would form the basis of a book.
“When I was sick, I kept a day-to-day diary and Professor Gupta would have mentioned to me from time to time what about the diary and when I retired, I put my head down and it turned into the book.”
At the time, Kevin was principal of Galvone National School in Limerick and he decided before they broke for Christmas to tell staff he was sick. He was put on a six-month course of chemotherapy.
“That year, I was 50; my eldest was 21, we were married 25 years. It was the ideal year, our younger lad was 16. I was just thinking ‘I won’t see this, I won’t be able to attend marriages, I won’t, I won’t and how was I going to tell my mother?’ We went through Christmas in a haze,” he said.
Kevin started chemotherapy on January 13, 2005 and after going for treatment, he would go into work the next day. This continued for six months.
He was informed the treatment had a 95% success rate and he thought it was fantastic, until he found out he was one of the 5%.
“When I was scanned, there had been very little impact. The day I got the results of that scan, it was the day of the London bombing in July. My eldest son was in Australia backpacking. We had tried to keep life as normal as possible in that way. He rang from Australia expecting great news and this was disappointing,” he said.
Kevin got involved with Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) and decided he was going to make the break from school life. “I didn’t want to be in the school if things started to go pear-shaped, I didn’t want the children looking at me. Over the summer, we had the wait and see. Come August, I started getting terrible back pains and I found out that the cancer wasn’t slow growing, it was fast growing,” he said about yet another devastating blow.
He was put on a more intense course of chemotherapy and continued with the LDS job. “I was up and down the country and I would take the chemo and go back to work the next day. Life went on for the family all during this,” he said.
Kevin got the all-clear on March 24, 2006 and returned to work on May 2. “I retired at the end of August 2010 and I never missed a day’s work in between. I set myself that target,” he said.
He explained that throughout his illness, and even prior to that as a teacher, he kept a reflective diary. “When this happened, I started writing in things like ‘I’m in hospital today’. I would put an inspirational quote at the top like ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, ‘you can run but you can’t hide’, that kind of thing. I would have been into quotes. I enjoyed them and I found it helped,” he said.
He was encouraged by his medical team to keep the diaries and they later encouraged him to take it a step further and turn them into a memoir. “If I’d published the diaries, they would have been bad sellers because of the language in them. One of my sons was going through the first draft and said to me ‘you couldn’t bless yourself without cursing and swearing’.
“But I used to vent my anger at the cancer and give out to it – ‘you have no right to have invaded my body’. When I had a good day, I would glorify that. If you were having a rough day you would look back and see all the good days. It helped me,” he said.
On reflection, he said, “You can hit rock bottom and if you are lucky it will come back up for you and life goes on as well. You have to be optimistic. There are some people out there when if you show them a donut, they will only see the hole, you have to see the donut and enjoy it.”
His book, entitled An Imperfect Storm, was named by his son Ronan. Launched on September 16, it is now available locally and all the author royalties are donated to the Mid-West Cancer Foundation.