Lucan cancer campaigner says health services improve 

by Gazette Reporter
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A Lucan-based cancer patient who has battled with a rare form of the disease for 12 years says he is grateful for the improved health services in Ireland that are keeping him alive.

In 2011 software engineer, Mark Mc Donnell, was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours in his small intestine and several secondary tumours on his liver. Happily married to Caitlín and a father of three, the confirmation about cancer came as a huge shock for him.

But thanks to treatment and ongoing monitoring provided by a Centre of Excellence at Saint Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, his disease is stable. And Mark has become a leading advocate, at national and international level, for patients with a similar NETs condition.

According to Mark “ the disease, involving slow-growing tumours that secrete hormones, is sometimes known as the quiet cancer.”

It’s the condition that killed the founder of Apple, Steve Jobs and the US singer, Aretha Franklin.

Research shows that a quarter of patients can have the disease for five years before it is diagnosed. In Mark’s case he had a liver issue in 2002 but nine years passed before the link was made with a NETs problem.

He became a founder member and chairman of the support group for NETs patients and their families, the Net Patient Network. He was also elected President of the international organisation of support organisations for patients with a NETs condition (INCA). His dealings with patients and services in other countries allow him to assess how Ireland compares in the services it provides for patients with the disease.

“The situation of my fellow-Irish patients battling this rare form of cancer has dramatically improved, from a very low base” according to Mark. “We now have a Centre of Excellence, at Saint Vincent’s Hospital Dublin and satellite centres in places like Cork and Galway. More and more, when patients are diagnosed with the disease, they are referred to the place where they can get the best available care.”

Mark also says the HSE’s willingness to send patients abroad for treatment not yet available in Ireland has saved and prolonged many lives. “There is one procedure, not yet offered in Ireland, involving infusions of a radioactive isotope. The HSE has assisted dozens of patients to access this life-saving treatment in places like Uppsala (Sweden), Rotterdam (the Netherlands) and in the UK.” Mark explains.

One of Mark’s colleagues, Wexford estate agent, Adrian Haythornthwaite, went to Sweden for the special treatment. Unfortunately, he passed away in March. But in keeping with Adrian’s wishes, Mark and several fellow cancer patients from the Net Patient Network,

recently travelled to the HSE’s Treatment Abroad Unit offices in Kilkenny, and presented them with a plaque.

“ It was our way of saying thanks “ according to Mark. “ Adrian had commissioned plaques for the HSE team and for the Irish hospitals where we receive our care. We wanted to complete the project in Adrian’s memory.”

Originally from Palmerstown, Mark has lived in Lucan for the past 30 years. He gets a monthly injection to help with both the symptoms of his cancer and its growth. He also undergoes extensive monitoring and tests every six months at Saint Vincent’s Hospital.

Photos: Browne Photography

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