Mick Mullan and girlfriend Mel Murphy
Michael Mullan was told at 24 years of age that he had six months to live.
Two and a half years later, and Michael, known locally as Mick, is still fighting to tell his tale.
Mick has already kicked cancer twice, so the third diagnosis was devastating news for the Eadestown native.
“I just remember the doctor just said to me ‘I’m afraid it’s some bad news’, and you kind of have this feeling in your stomach like ‘it’s back again’. It’s a shock to the system”, Mick told the Leader.
“You think you’re in good health and then all of a sudden your whole world is turned upside down because cancer’s back again.”
Mick was first diagnosed with neuroblastoma as a 16 month old baby. He had a tumour on his adrenal gland, and his parents, Patrick and Patricia, were told he had a one in four chance of survival. “It was touch and go for a while, I was quite sick. They put me on chemotherapy but chemotherapy back then was quite invasive, it kind of destroyed my whole body. I think I spent nearly a year in hospital.”
Mick went through chemo, surgery and a bone marrow transplant. He remained cancer free until he was 22-years-old, studying in Trinity College Dublin.
“I was cancer free until final year in college. When cancer was in the background throughout my life, I kind of thought I had dealt with it, I presumed I was a childhood survivor of it. So it kind of came as a shock in final year.”
This time doctors told Mick he had cancer in his kidney cells.
“While cancer obviously is a very bad diagnosis to get, we were told at the time that this wasn’t that bad. We were told all that was needed was surgery.
“I took a couple of months off college just to recuperate from the surgery, because any type of cancer it gets at your immune system, but thankfully the college allowed me to sit my exams at the same time as the repeat students, so I had a couple of months to study and I managed to come out with a first class honours degree.”
Mick said the cancer gave him a whole new perspective on life.
“When you’re given a cancer diagnosis like this, it’s a big deal but it makes you reflect on your whole life. It made me realise I only have one chance at life, I might as well give it as good a shot as I can.”
Mick and his girlfriend of over nine years, Mel Murphy from Ballymore, made the big move over to the US when Mick was awarded a scholarship to Harvard Law school.
“The surgeon in Tallaght said the cancer is gone, there’s no real sign of it coming back so we were sure we were going over to Boston in good health. That’s why it came as such a shock when I did get the third diagnosis.
“The worst thing about this time was the doctor in Dana–Farber Cancer Institute said any treatment that you go on is a leap of faith.
“We were told I had six months to live, at 24 years of age it was such a shock and so devastating to hear those words, and I said I’m going to give it my best shot, there’s no point in taking it lying down and admitting to yourself it is going to beat me.
“Mel is an extremely positive, strong person. She talked me through it and any time I had a bad day she was there to tell me about the silver linings. We were lucky to be in Boston, and have such good care.
“There’s no treatment options for me in Ireland so in a way I was blessed.”
Mel and Mick had planned to stay in the US for a year and go travelling but all these plans were put on hold.
“My parents were good enough to come live with us for nine months, and give up their jobs to come over when it was really bad.
“We’ve got such great support from our family back in Ireland, they’re always at the end of the phone.”
Numerous fundraisers have been organised for Mick at home to help raise money for his medical expenses in the US.
His treatment is currently ongoing.
“At the minute, my last scan said that the cancers not growing, it’s being held at bay which is great news.
“Even some of the tumours have shrunk, but the cancer is still there, it’s still active, it’s by no means bet at this stage.
“The doctor said it’s going to be a long-term battle, it’s going to take a couple of years, it’ll take different treatments before it’s finished.”
Mick has been hospitalised around 30 times in the space of two and a half years, and someone that keeps him going is girlfriend Mel.
“The support I had from Mel is definitely one of the driving forces, honestly without her I don’t know what I would do.
“Particularly on the tough days. There is down days when you really feel ‘why me, why did this happen to me’, I’ve dealt with it twice before and to have somebody there that can talk it through with you, and understand where you’re coming from.”
Mick’s advice to someone recently given a cancer diagnosis is that positivity is key.
“From my point of view the main thing is to stay positive. Even when you’re given bad news, take it with a pinch of salt.
“Cancer diagnosis’ are never 100% accurate, you can be told you’ve six months to live and two and a half years on, I’m still here.”