Lurgan man Conor McManus, having fought and beaten Burkitts Lymphona, is holding a fundraising night to raise awareness of the disease and financial support for those suffering from it.
It will take place in The Batcave bar on November 28 and will take the form of the themed Gatsby/1920’s night in aid of Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI and The Niall Duffy Trust Fund.
In March Conor became the third person in his school year to be diagnosed with cancer.
He said: “I felt hard sometimes, took a positive attitude and promised myself I wouldn’t be beaten, but there were nights where I found myself crying, what if the treatment isn’t working, what if I ended up being the third person in my year not just to be diagnosed with this disease, but to be beaten it as well.
“Paula Reynolds and Niall McCann were the other two people in my year, in my school and their passing really hit home for me when I found myself in the same situation. Paula in particular was a really good friend of mine, a friend that I loved to bits and her passing had a big affect on me.
“Before I went into hospital I prayed and asked Paula if she was okay where she was and if she could give me a sign to let me know she was happy. Within a few days I had a phone call saying my hospital bed was ready in Belfast City Hospital. I got there and was shown to my bed in S Bay, 10 North. There were three beds in the bay, two of which were free and 1 which was occupied by an elderly man. I immediately noticed that younger man who was visiting this elderly patient and then it clicked, it was Paula’s granda, of all the hospitals, floors and bays, I was put in with him. I personally took that as ‘my sign’.
Conor continued: “I spent the guts of three to four months in Belfast City Hospital receiving treatment and was given the all clear on September 12, exactly six months to the day after being diagnosed.
“This is the reason as to why we are running the fundraiser and think that it would make a good read as well as promote our fundraising event and we can hopefully raise enough awareness and gain as much support as we can to raise a substantial amount for both charities.”
Conor went on to describe how he came to learn he was seriously ill.
He said: “It was probably around this time last year, as temperatures started to drop and the dreaded head cold started to circulate, I was suffering from fits of sneezing, running nose, puffy eyes and the feeling that I was allergic to something.
“After a few weeks I could take no more and went to see my doctor, who informed me that I actually had a sinus infection. He gave me medicine for it and it started clearing up, however, just as things were starting to clear I noticed my throat getting very dry and sore, which developed into tonsillitis, but only on the right hand side.
“Due to the fact that my brother suffers from tonsillitis often and I actually had it for the first time almost exactly a year before I called the doctor and got an antibiotic. I finished the antibiotics which seemed to have cleared the infection, however the swelling and ‘red raw’ state of my right tonsil remained.
“I then went to the out of hours doctor one evening after work who looked at me as if I was exaggerating and quite sharp and a bit rude. I understood that the state of the public sector and indeed the NHS isn’t great and he had other, maybe more serious cases to see but I felt I wasn’t being treated correctly. Anyhow, he gave me a stronger antibiotic and sent me on my way. After seven days, the same result, the infection seemed to clear but the tonsil itself was still inflamed and swollen, even moreso than before.
“I was in work one Saturday morning and the pain of my throat was at its worst the swelling was so bad that when I was to take a drink, the liquid was actually bouncing off the swollen tonsil and into my nasal passage.
“I then went to the out of hours doctor on the Crumlin Road as, what I thought was a last resort. He had a look at it, immediately more professional and apologised that it had gotten so bad. He gave me another antibiotic which he stated was stronger again, painkillers and a freezing spray so that I could eat and drink with a bit more comfort. He also acknowledged that it did look really bad and if these antibiotics don’t seem to be working, to go to a hospital immediately.
“The same thing happened, infection cleared but the tonsil itself was still really swollen and really sore and I actually started to feel unwell, had fever symptoms and was constantly tired, to the point where I was falling asleep in the back of a colleagues car on my way home from work.
“About a week after attending the out of hours on the Crumlin Road I had enough, I was working overtime and got back home shortly after 9pm, and soon as I walked into the house I asked my Da to come with me to A&E.
“When I was seen, I had a blood sample taken and a few doctors had a look at my throat. I was told that they didn’t like what they were seeing but they didn’t know exactly what it was.
“I was taken up to the ENT department and an ENT specialist was called in to see me. He told me that I would be staying for a few days and was going to try to get me a space on an emergency operating list to have my tonsil removed, again he wasn’t convinced that this was just tonsillitis and wanted to investigate further.
“I was in Craigavon Area hospital for two nights and on the end of my first night had begun to fast for the operation. A few hours before I was to go for the operation a female surgeon came to see me and apologised, telling me they could no longer fit me in for the operation but that she wanted to take a biopsy of the tonsil, which she did, cutting a small bit off it in a consultation room in the ENT department and she then arranged some medication and sent me home to await the results of the biopsy.
“I left the hospital that Saturday afternoon and was back to work on the Monday. The following Wednesday, March 12, I received a call from another doctor that I had seen in Dungannon while waiting on the biopsy results, he told me that he wanted to see me in Craigavon immediately. So I left work not knowing what was happening but thinking they may have gotten me a space for the operation. I stopped off on my way from Belfast to Craigavon and collected my da who always comes with me, whether it’s for an appointment or shopping.
“We arrived at the hospital and we were escorted to see the doctor to see what was happening. He shook both of our hands on entering the room and asked that we take a seat, pointing to a seat along the wall for my da and a ‘dentist like’ chair in the middle of the room for me. It felt like I was in the spotlight and there was a room full of people staring at me even though it was just me, my da, the doctor and a nurse.
“He just got straight to the point and said, “We have tested the biopsy and have had a chat with the guys in London who tested the sample for us, I’m afraid to say, it is as we expected, you have a malignant lymphoma.”
There was a moments silence, which felt like an eternity and he then asked, “Do you understand?”, I replyed by saying, “I think I know what you’re saying and I don’t want to seem ignorant but can you explain this a bit to me”.
“He basically said that I had a “High Grade, Non-Hodgkin’s B-Cell Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes.
“I didn’t know what to say, what to do, I just sat there and looked towards my da, I felt numb and it probably sounds strange to say this, but I felt like I had let my da down, I felt weak, I felt like had let this horrible disease in, opened the doors to it and now, I had cancer.
“As I looked at my da he said something to the doctor, which I will never forget. It was just off the tongue and it did break that awkward silence and actually made me smile, albeit for a few seconds, “I have no luck with this boy, doctor,” he said, and that was the truth, I was the one who had a life saving operation when I was six years old, after my appendix ruptured and I had part of my bowl removed due to gangrene setting in, I was the one who fell and split his head on a building site as an adventurous child, I was the one who came home from football every other week with suspected broken feet and legs, dislocated shoulders and landed home after nights out on crutches.”
Conor continued: “The process started almost immediately, I saw a few consultants and discussed treatments, survival rates, where I would be, the medication I would have administratored and how long the process would take. I was then told to go home, tell my family and friends and try to get my head around what I had just been told.
“I remember my da worrying about telling my ma the whole way home so I stopped in Edward Street and went and got my hair cut, just so I could have a minute to myself. When I got back into the car my da told me that he rang and informed my ma which made it a bit easier for me going home.
“I still think the hardest thing I had to do throughout the whole thing was telling my girlfriend. I just text and told her I needed her to come down after work, I needed to talk to her and for her not to panic and ask questions, just to bring stuff to stay over.
“I remember her walking in and me pulling her into the living room. I am usually good with words and how to explain things to people, but I was lost, I really didn’t know how to explain it, so I just came out with it. I think the exact words were, “I need to tell you something, before you say anything, I need you to realise this is going to be hard, and I need you by my side” and I told her. Watching her reaction was heartbreaking, bearing in mind we had only been going out for just over a year, it was a lot for her to take.
“I informed who I needed to, family, friends and management in work and just tried to focus on the bigger picture, which was to get the treatment I needed and get better.
“Everything started quite quickly, I went for blood tests, a bone marrow biopsy, CT Scan and PET Scan and then went for my 1st round of chemotherapy in Craigavon. I was scheduled to have whats known as R-CHOP, six cycles, one every three weeks. I had my 1st about two weeks after being diagnosed, it was a strange feeling, sitting in a chair for seven hours having this stuff pumped straight into your veins, and it left me completely wrecked. It was like the worst hangover I’ve ever had multiplied by 100. After a few days however I felt okay again. Three weeks later I went for my second consultation before my second round of chemo and it was a big day, I was waiting to hear whether the disease had spread. I was really nervous, I was so afraid that I would be given more bad news.
“To an extent I did receive more bad news. The doctor started by saying, the biopsy had been analysed further and it showed that I actually had what is known as Burkitts Lymphoma, a similar, yet far more aggressive and faster growing and spreading than that of the Non Hodgkins B Cell Lymphoma. The good news though was that, although the main source of the disease was in my throat there were small traces of the disease showing in my groin and behind my lung, but not enough for them to clarify that it had actually spread.
“I was then sent to Belfast City Hospital for more intensive treatment, due to the fact that Craigavon simply didn’t have the facilities.
“It was daunting to say the least. I was told I would be in for a while and due to the fact that my blood counts would often be low and that I would basically have no immune system, I would be there for a while. All in all I spent six weeks every single day and night in hospital until my blood counts came up enough to let me out for four weeks, just to give my body a break. Those six weeks felt like an eternity, I had gone through every emotion imaginable. At times I felt that I was lucky to be given a chance to fight, as I prayed at times, I asked why me?
“I was called back into hospital the day after my friend Nicola’s wedding (a cousin of Paula’s and another granddaughter of Felix’s). The chemo was dreadful, it made me feel sick, made all of my hair fall out, gave me constant mixed emotions, made me tired and fatigued, gave me blisters in my mouth, burned the lining of my throat and stomach and gave me ecoli in my picc line (a plastic tube about a metre and a half long inserted into a vein in my arm to put the treatment through) among a list of other things.
“I eventually finished my treatment and was set on leaving, all I needed was my blood counts, in particular my neutrafils get over that magic 0.5 number.
“But my bad luck struck again, I had caught another infection, temperature spike of 38.5 degrees and pneumonic fever. It took a few days, but I got over it and got released from hospital after another six weeks again.
“I was given a few weeks break again and then went for my scans. Exactly six months to the day, September 12 I was told that my scans were clear. That was it, I did it, I had beaten this terrible disease, that has claimed the lives of millions of people worldwide. It felt like such a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, I remember looking at Erin, my girlfriend, who was by my side like she was every single night while I was in hospital, and her smile lit up the room. I was so happy, I actually shouted “Yeeeessss” across the carpark of the hospital and didn’t care who seen and heard me, I felt invincible.
“I had to pull over that day on my way home, my emotions completely took over, I came off the motorway at Moira, pulled in and cried. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my ma and da face to face, I could give them something to be proud of again amd when my da hugged me, I felt the rewards of winning that fight.
“There are so many things that go through your mind in this situation. From the moment I was diagnosed to now as I write this email to you, your mind is in overdrive. You will never truly know yourself or others in your life until you are faced with something like this, and the reality is, so many people, every single day, are going through the exact same thing I did, and whatsmore is a lot of those people don’t let it show!
“One in three people in the UK alone will be directly affected by cancer in their lifetime. This figure is truly shocking and I feel, having gone through what I have recently and seeing 1st hand what this disease can do to people and their families, that I have to help, in any way that I can.
“Myself and Susan McKenna, bar manager of The Batcave Lurgan and Susans sister Emma, who also works in The Batcave and are both former work colleagues, had a discussion about perhaps organising a fundraiser. We thought about doing it in aid of cancer but I wanted specifics which is why we have chosen to raise funds on behalf of Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI and the Niall Duffy Trust Fund. Both of these charities are obviously very close to my heart and I know and have witnessed 1st hand the support of Jackie and Sean Duffy of The Naill Duffy Trust Fund.
“We want to make our fundraiser a night to remember, we want it to be different, we want it to be fun and we want to stick to the aim of raising as much money we possibly can for our chosen charities. We have chsoen a Gatsby Themed Event, with the support of local businesses who have kindly donated raffle prizes and some very carefully crafted and purchased props and decorating we are well on our way to pulling off a very successful fundraiser.
“Details of the fundraiser can be found on our events page by searching ‘Charity Gatsby Themed Fundraiser’ on Facebook and I am also raising money on my Just Giving page.
“I would also like to express my thanks and gratitude to everyone who showed their support through my treatment, anyone who asked about me, phoned me, text me or came to visit, said a prayer, wrote to me on Facebook and to all the people and local businesses who have taken time to consider helping us, donated raffle prizes and everyone who has bought or is buying a ticket for our fundraiser.”