IN THE MIDST of training for the New York marathon, an unforeseen health crisis stopped Kevin Haugh in his tracks.
He had turned 50 that year and the prospect of getting back in shape, visiting New York and running around Central Park sounded more than idyllic.
In fact, it unfortunately was. While taking a shower after a training run on the morning of December 4, 2004, he noticed a slight swelling of the glands on the left side of his neck.
A short time later he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma, which required chemotherapy, stem cell harvesting and subsequently a stem cell transplant.
“We were devastated. This was our greatest nightmare. My whole world imploded. There was no future. I was overwhelmed with despair, helplessness, anger and hopelessness. The end seemed near and the past seemed irrelevant. It was impossible to come to grips with the fact that I had a malignant tumour removed from my neck and my chances of survival would depend on the findings of further medical tests,” he wrote in his first book, An Imperfect Storm.
And so he began to keep a diary throughout his treatment, which he found invaluable in the days, months and years that were to follow.
“They served as a catharsis and motivation platform in the journey that lay ahead, as I used an inspirational quotation as a heading for each day’s entry into what are now called my cancer diaries. The diaries became a wailing wall of sorts to me where I recorded the highs and lows of my journey. There were entries of hope and despair together with rants of anger..I wrote down exactly what tormented me when I was afraid, angry or upset, and this catharsis enabled me to cope and possibly save those close to me from the brunt of my feelings at a time when all of us were going through an intense emotional experience.”
These diaries became his book. Now that his cancer is in remission, the 59 year-old former Limerick school principal says he doesn’t have a ‘bucket list’ as he’s “too busy living”. He just considers himself lucky to be alive. His book, which will be launched in the coming weeks, is not, he says, a medical text book. Neither does it proclaim to be a self-help tome, or an advisory text on “how to live with cancer”. It is an honest account of his life before, during and after his diagnosis.
It portrays the changes that diagnosis imposed on his family, brought to his home and inflicted on his relationships.
The former principal of Galvone national school in Limerick city, who retired in 2010 after 35 years in education, will donate all the author royalties from the book to the Mid-Western Cancer Foundation.
Professor Rajnish K. Gupta, consultant medical oncologist and Director of Cancer Services at the University Hospital Limerick, said the book gives a valuable first-hand account of the patient experience to doctors and those who work with cancer patients.
Both he and Clare hurling legend, Ger Loughnane, who triumphed in his own battle against leukaemia, will officially launch the book in the city on September 16.
As to his next project, Kevin is philosophical. “I don’t have a bucket list, or a list of things to do in life. I am too busy living. I consider myself lucky. I was diagnosed in 2004 and was gifted so many additional years of life when I consider those who had a much shorter journey with cancer. This project has been a rollercoaster ride – my wife, Mary, my sons, Brian and Ronan, and Buddy my dog will all attest to that.”
“I will take life as it comes to me. I suppose that’s all any of us can do, because we never know when the lights might flicker. I think you have to capture the moment and live for today. While you have to do a bit of planning, you could put more energy into planning than living.”
Edited by Trióna Marren O’Grady, the book is published in Kildare by Outside the Box Learning Resources, and will be available in all good bookshops.
Kevin Haugh will launch his book An Imperfect Storm in the George Boutique hotel on Monday, September 16, from 5.30pm