By supporting Q Radiothon you will be making a real difference to the lives of people affected by cancer across Northern Ireland. When 38 year old Richie Sheerin from Derry/Londonderry was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow cancer at just 35 years old, he embarked on an intensive treatment programme including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants. Throughout it all, Richie was supported by Friends of the Cancer Centre and today, he is in remission and enjoying life with his wife, Lisa and son Aedan. This is his story.
“Before I was diagnosed, I was a typical thirtysomething. I was just becoming settled, I got married, our son Aedan came along and I’d always been fairly active whether it was football, soccer, cycling or running. Things started to change in January 2018, when I joined Sean Dolan’s Gaelic Club and started to train. I tweaked my hip towards the end of one training session, but I let it go for a bit and thought it would get better itself. When it didn’t get better, I sought out a physiotherapist and after going through the motions with him, things still weren’t really getting any better. Coughing and sneezing started getting quite sore, to the extent where I had to position myself if I felt a sneeze or a cough coming on, just so it wouldn’t hurt down around the pelvis area. Then one Thursday morning, it had just struck 9 o’clock and I thought I’d try phoning the doctor. They saw me that day and couldn’t find anything, but he said he’d do routine inflammation blood tests. Tuesday came by and it was just a normal afternoon in work. I was in a meeting and my phone was buzzing away and I ignored it. I looked at a message and it was from my wife, Lisa telling me to answer my phone as it was something about my bloods. So a private number came up on my phone and it was the doctor who said ‘Mr Sheerin are you sitting down?’ I asked him what it was and he said ‘we need you over in the Cancer Centre tomorrow, we’re highly suspicious of a blood cancer called myeloma.’ I was so shocked and didn’t know what way to take the news, so I hung up and didn’t ask anything else. I had just left a meeting and when I went back to my desk, the first thing I did was bring up Google. I typed in myeloma and it said incurable bone marrow cancer.
“When the doctor mentioned the word cancer I didn’t feel sad or angry. I felt uncertain and it felt like the lights were turned off. With blood cancer, they say it’s systemic, so there isn’t a one treatment treats all approach. At the time, Altnagelvin Hospital didn’t have radiotherapy set up, so I was travelling up and down to Belfast every day for five weeks. During that part of treatment, I had a feeling that things weren’t going well and when I saw my consultant after a scan, he confirmed there was more cancer. So what started off as one became six other tumours spotted throughout the body. At this point the disease was out of control, that’s how the consultant put it to me.
“The treatment and care I received in Altnagelvin and Belfast was fantastic, but there isn’t a specialist in Northern Ireland for myeloma. I decided that I would look at other options and that took me to University College Hospital in London and an expert in her field who did some extra testing and put me on this old school chemotherapy to try and get the disease under control. With that treatment, I was hospitalised in Altnagelvin for about three months, but treatment worked and got the disease under control. The next step was a stem cell transplant in November 2019. That was tough as I was in isolation in Belfast City Hospital. The plan was always to do a tandem transplant, so using my own stem cells initially and then the second time around we would use donor stem cells. I got through the first transplant and started to feel a lot better and by January, I had a PET scan which couldn’t detect cancer anywhere. The cancer had gone. That was the first time I’ve ever heard that they couldn’t see it anymore. However, there was still the possibility that it could be hiding, so we still needed to do a second transplant. So we tested my brothers to see if any of them would be a match for my donor transplant. I have four brothers and they were all tested. Thankfully my brother, Damian was a match and he has been my life-saver. Everything was ready to go for March 2020 and then COVID-19 happened and it became unsafe for the transplant to take place. I decided to get on with life and back into my cycling. When COVID-19 restrictions lifted in August 2020, I got the call from Belfast City Hospital to tell me they had a bed ready for me.
“I got through that transplant, but it was slightly tougher because of the COVID-19 restrictions that were in place. However, December came around and I’m delighted to say that tests confirmed I was still in full remission and there is no trace of cancer.
“I’ve always had a positive outlook on life – regardless of this type of news or not – and I’ve always used cycling as my mental medicine and that is more meaningful now than ever.
“Throughout it all I was really well supported by family and friends, and found great motivation and support in Team Ireland cycling, who I train with on a virtual cycling platform called Zwift. In December 2020 we all decided to do a virtual cycling challenge to raise money for Friends of the Cancer Centre and I was delighted that we were able to raise over £2,000. Friends of the Cancer Centre is an amazing charity and a cause really close to my heart. More importantly, everything it does is local and it is helping people like me and people throughout the north. They have been doing great work for 35 years and they’re making such a real difference to local people and it’s really enhancing people’s quality of life.”