Like most 25 year olds, Monaghan native Alan Markey thought he was invincible. He was busy with life, work and a passion for Gaelic Football, but had a dumb, dull pain in his back that he couldn’t shake.
“It all started in February 2022. I had been going to the gym quite a bit more, fitting in 5.30am sessions before work. It was all part of getting in the best possible shape I could to play football. One day, after a deadlifts session, my lower back was feeling tight and sore. Over the next couple of months, I tried to sort it with physio visits, pain relief, reducing the gym sessions and strapping up for training and games, but it wasn’t going away.
“By May it was starting to wake me up at night. If I sat down too long I was sore, if I was on my feet too long I had the same problem. I commuted from Monaghan to Dublin for work every day, so that was agony too. I was taking large amounts of painkillers just to cope and my appetite was leaving me.
“Towards the end of May I found a testicular lump and was referred for a scan. While I was waiting for that I got a terrible stitch in my side and started vomiting. My Mam and girlfriend convinced me to go to A&E. I just wasn’t joining up the dots, I felt all the symptoms were separate events that I could get over.
“Over the course of the next six days, it was like a perfect storm – I was in and out of A&E having various tests, the results from a private MRI that the local physio had ordered on my back showed ominous signs, I couldn’t stand up straight, I was vomiting. I was blue-lighted from Drogheda A&E to Beaumont and then the Mater. The upshot was that I had aggressive Stage 3 Cancer, migrating up through my body from the testicles and they had very little time to work with. It felt surreal, I could run 10K two months ago, now I could barely walk.
“I struggle to remember anything of the next 3-4 weeks. I know I was in the Mater’s ICU on life support and having treatment. My Mam and Dad were called in to say their goodbyes.”
Laura, Alan’s Mam tells us, “It was an awful time for us all. Alan went from playing football to being on life support in a matter of weeks. It was very hard to watch him deteriorate so rapidly, and the doctors were doing everything they could to save him, but they left us in no doubt that the situation was very critical. He was told he had cancer, moved hospital and started chemo all within a four-hour window. We hadn’t time to process it all. The night we were called back to the hospital and told to bring everyone who needed to be there with us is a night we will never forget. Dublin seemed like a long way away that night. We spent the next seven weeks in the family accommodation in the hospital where we could be close to Alan, and which we were immensely grateful for. Thanks to the great medical care Alan received and also the prayers and support of our families, friends, Fr. Owen and our local community we would eventually all make it back home together.”
Alan says; “The next memory I have was of being in ICU. I had no hair and no voice – as I’d needed a tracheotomy. There were tubes coming out of everywhere and I wasn’t allowed eat. I just felt generally miserable at that stage and my form was low. I know I was angry about my situation at that stage. I don’t think I appreciated how lucky I was to still be here.
“The next few weeks were a battle. My aggressive cancer was being fought with aggressive chemotherapy. I’d dropped 35 kilos, my lungs kept collapsing – the right one was particularly poor, but I was making progress. I moved from ICU to HDU (High Dependency Unit), then to St Vincent’s Ward – the Oncology Ward and then to St. Cecilia’s. The chemo was working, my cancerous cell numbers were dropping, and I was slowly coming off the oxygen.
“I couldn’t say there was a particular tuning point, but getting my voice back was a big deal. I’m not massively chatty, but used to be quick with a one-liner or quick response and the fact that I had to go and try write out what I wanted to say, and describe it, just took away from that. It didn’t feel like me… it was torture.
“I left the hospital at the beginning of September, the chemo had finished at that stage but the cancer wasn’t completely gone – the all-clear came last December. I continue to build myself back up. I went back to work in January and my goal is to get back to football in the near future when I build up my strength and fitness. Physically I may still be recovering, but mentally I’m stronger. There’s not a lot that would phase me now. I’ve also realised that it’s important to make time to make memories, and I’m looking forward to taking some time to travel and explore.
“Although the whole thing took a toll on me physically, I think mentally it was much tougher for my Mam and Dad, my brothers and sister, and my girlfriend. All they could do was be there, provide support, listen to me give out and continue to hope. They were immense.
“And I know I wouldn’t be here talking to you without the incredible staff at the Mater. From Professor McCaffrey and his team, to all those who work in ICU, HDU, St Vincent’s and St Cecilia’s wards – they never gave up on me, they managed to put up with me and they brought me back. I’ll be forever grateful.”
Alan Markey, Monaghan
Following his illness, Alan and his family, with the support of their local community, raised vital funds to support the work of the Cancer Care teams at the Mater. If you wish, you can support this work today by clicking the link below. Thank You.