A Meath TD has revealed that a shocking skin-cancer scare which led to the removal of a tumour from his scalp, has made him “reorder” his perspective and priorities.
ontú party leader Peadar Tóibín says the diagnosis has also made him fully aware of the fear other cancer patients must be feeling due to treatment delays because of Covid-19 restrictions and this spurred him to start a campaign to reopen cancer services.
The 45-year old recently underwent surgery to remove a melanoma tumour on his head and is awaiting a Pet scan to ensure the cancer hasn’t spread.
The Meath West TD also disclosed that his wife had melanoma six years ago but that you never really know what that “dark cloud” is like until your family has it.
His diagnosis led to sleepless nights about how to explain the cancer to his four young children who, in the end, took the illness in their stride.
“Yes indeed, it was a fair shock,” said the Navan native.
“I found a small lump, the size of a fingernail on my scalp around Christmas time.
“I do a bit of gardening in my spare time, so I wasn’t sure if it was just a scrape that wasn’t healing or what. I had been meaning to get it checked out over the lockdown, but like so many others, I had the feeling that doctor’s appointments were hard to get.
“I have a brother who works in dermatology but because of the lockdown, I hadn’t seen him in about four months. When we did finally meet, he told me to go straight to a doctor.
“The doctor took the biopsy and called me about 10 days later to tell me it was a midsized melanoma tumour.
“He gave me plenty of detail but he obviously realised after a few minutes that I had completely zoned out and wasn’t taking anything in. So he asked to speak instead with my wife, Deirdre.
“I have to say that being told you have skin cancer is a strange sensation. Deirdre had melanoma six years ago so we had experience of the dark cloud that descends on you and your family.
“You never really know what it is like unless you are in it. It does reorder your perspective and priorities.
“The idea of telling your kids is something your mind decides to focus on at 3am at night. I have four young kids and they took it well.
“My four-year old said that it looked like my head had caved in, which was accurate in more ways than one,” he laughed.
Initial exploration on the tumour unfortunately demanded a second operation and Peadar is still awaiting a Pet scan to ensure the cancer hasn’t spread.
“I was lucky that I got great treatment from fantastic doctors and nurses just as the country exited from the extreme lockdown.
“I had a disc of skin excised from my scalp. Having received bad news once, you don’t even dare to be optimistic waiting for information the second time.
“The next time you analyse every little detail of the doctor’s behaviour from the moment he invites you into his office. You scrutinise this walk, how chirpy his greeting is, the small talk and tone of his voice to see if you can determine if the news is good or bad.
“The second time, the results were middling. I had to go back for another section, the size of my palm, to be taken from my scalp in addition to a lymph node.
“I have to say I was overwhelmed by the support from family, friends and the general public and was very thankful to read get well and mass cards and social media messages right up to being wheeled down to theatre.”
Thankfully, the latest results have returned clear and as he awaits the final hurdle, he is appealing to people to wear a hat and sunscreen – something he didn’t do.
“I’m waiting for a Pet scan. Then I have an all-over skin search every three months for three years, followed by a biannual exam for the next two. If that all goes well, we are home and dry, please God.
“Ever since Deirdre’s melanoma, we have been rigid with sun cream and the hats on the children. I’m not a sun worshipper but I do love gardening and being out and about and over the years unfortunately, I didn’t use sun protection.
“I’ve learned the hard way. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland, with 10,554 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 1,138 cases of melanoma each year.
“Cases of melanoma skin cancer have trebled in 20 years in Ireland and shockingly 160 people die from it each year. Many of these deaths are preventable with the use of sun-cream and hats
“I also know first-hand the fear that cancer patients and others with serious illnesses have due to delays in treatments
“It doesn’t make any sense that you can get a hair-cut in this country but you can’t get a cancer breast check or have a face-to-face consultation if you have serious mental-health issues.
“Many people who are cancer symptomatic are not getting the diagnostics or the treatment that they need. It’s estimated that one-third of all excess deaths during these very difficult times are non-Covid deaths.
“Some of these people have lost their lives due to the cancellation of critical health services so we need to reopen these services right now.
“The Irish Cancer Society has stated that €20m is required now to help catch up on the chronically underfunded National Cancer Strategy and €10m is needed to address growing backlogs: 9,000 people lose their lives to cancer in Ireland each year.
“This is many multiples of the numbers lost to Covid. This is not to underestimate Covid. We need to be careful and cautious when dealing with Covid, but we need balance. We can’t close our health service down to the many other patients in serious need.