independent

Friday 17 August 2018

The future is great after Eoghan (16) gets all clear from cancer diagnosis

Murrintown father said his son showed great courage during chemotherapy sessions

Andrew and Eoghan Cox
Andrew and Eoghan Cox

Esther Hayden

A Murrintown father has praised his son's courage when he was diagnosed with a 20cm tumour when he was just 15 years old.

Eoghan Cox who is the youngest son of Andrew and Marie was diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphoma last July and received the all clear in February of this year.

Andrew said that Eoghan was referred to Wexford General for a scan when he complained of persistent stomach pain.

'We were over in England and we knew something was wrong with our son Eoghan. He was complaining of a stomach pain. He was sent to Wexford General Hospital. They performed a scan and that was when the word tumour was first mentioned.

'They referred us to Crumlin the same day. He was examined there and went for a biopsy the next morning. That was when we got the initial diagnosis - they knew that it was a Burkitt lymphoma.

'The treatment in Crumlin was superb once we got onto Saint John's Ward. Professor Owen Smith who was looking after Eoghan was so persistent with the information and tests. Eoghan wasn't an active part of a clinical trial, but we allowed his bloods to be taken for research.

'When Eoghan was having his chemo it was horrendous. That was tough, really tough. He couldn't swallow. He lost weight. He was weak. He couldn't eat and his size plummeted. He was so miserable. He just wasn't himself. He looked like a skeleton walking. He was very gaunt. He was skinny and bald - like a stick insect. It was very hard to watch as a parent. Bizarrely, he was really upbeat about the whole thing. He was joking about his appearance and just laughing at himself.

'It was such a strange experience. He was still joking and laughing. I think he was trying to keep us laughing to stop us from falling apart. I guess if we fell apart it wouldn't have worked. None of us actively tried to be strong. We just had to be, for each other.

'When your child is sick, it is a pivotal moment to reassess and all the unimportant or silly things fall away. We didn't argue about anything trivial or petty during the treatment. It was not a positive thing that happened by any means, but it's probably made him a little bit harder long-term.

'Now, he is mouthy, opinionated and cheeky - a normal 16 year old. He was really keen to get back to school. He never uses his disease as an excuse or a crutch. He loves being back with his mates. He's in TY now and he's thinking of what subjects to pick for his Leaving Cert.'

The brave teen also made a decision early on in his treatment to shave off his own hair rather than to wait for it to fall out as a result of the chemotherapy. 'He decided himself to shave off his hair as it was something that he had control over himself.'

Eoghan who is a student in St Peter's College missed a large chunk of school during his Transition Year but resumed his studies full time earlier this year and will go into fifth year in September.

'For Eoghan, the future is great', said Andrew. 'He'll be studying for his Leaving Cert next year. We had a parent teacher meeting two weeks ago and he's doing well in school. He wants to go to college and do history, then he wants to go on and be a teacher.

'He has a real passion for history, particularly 20th century, and geography. He loves Asian history - someday he wants to go to Asia and travel more of Europe. Most kids would want to go to Disneyland but he would love to go to a place rich in history and culture. He wants to see everything and do everything now. Travelling is his passion too. His hunger for different cultures and countries is unreal. He digests books - he could read until the cows come home. He is such a smart kid, some of the things he comes out with just blows my mind.

'For me and his mum, at the end, it was so drawn out. We had gone through so much and everything was on hold. Afterwards, you look back and realise how bad things were and how lucky you have it now. You're almost on auto when you're going through emotional trauma. I love reading but I couldn't read when I was in Crumlin.

'I couldn't concentrate. I just couldn't engage my brain when Eoghan was sick. It was a struggle to do the normal things. You don't see the point of doing anything beyond what you absolutely have to and then there's the fact that you're so knackered. I was so lucky because work were great. They were so understanding in HR of what we were going through as a family.

'There are things I don't remember from when Eoghan was going through treatment. I don't know if it's because I was so knackered or if it's because I blocked it out, but I always remember how decent the people around me were. Small things, like a text, a call, or even someone handing you a cup of tea, were sometimes what got me through the day. Now Eoghan is out and about a fair bit now, back to his old self. Now, we can finally breathe. It's such a relief.'

Andrew said that Eoghan had also been diagnosed with Evan's Syndrome, a very rare autoimmune disorder in which the immune system destroys the body's red blood cells, white blood cells and/or platelets, when he was two years old. As a result of this he had his spleen removed when he was five because he didn't respond to steroid treatment.

At that time he was also under the care of Professor Smith and when he was diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphona last July Professor Smith wondered whether there was a link between the two conditions and also a link with Autoimmune Lymphoproliferative Syndrome (ALPS) so research sample bloods from Eoghan were sent to Germany for analysis.

Andrew said that 'to date, no association such as Autoimmune Lymphoproliferative Syndrome (ALPS) has been found'.

The study which Eoghan took part in focused on improving survival rates for children and teens affected by cancers of the blood.

The new research by UCD, the National Children's Research Centre (NCRC) and the Children's Medical and Research Centre (CMRC), Crumlin, focuses on understanding how normal gene regulation is affected by acute leukaemia. The ultimate goal is to develop new and better treatments for children with this blood cancer.

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