Client Story: Billy Byrne


Three years before I came to Purple House, I was diagnosed with Squamous cell carcinoma at the base of the tongue and in the right side of my neck.

At that time, I was also diagnosed with a separate cancer in kidney. They decided to deal with the major cancer first and that kicked the hell out of me. They fitted me with a peg before I started the treatment because they knew I was going to be tube fed. I ended up in hospital half way through and after I finished, I was in hospital for three months. Three months after I came out, I then had to go back in to a different hospital to get the kidney done. So I didn’t get a chance to recover and after that recovery took three years. It was three years that I was in and out of hospitals; mentally I was a basket case. I asked myself “Why am I here? What’s this? Three years and I’m still not recovered.

At that stage, my bedroom was my cocoon and I would come out for only an hour a day and sometimes I would go downstairs and maybe spend half an hour downstairs. I was literally that bad.

It took be a lot, I went to see a psycho-oncologist in St Luke’s for six months and I then had to go back a second time and all in all, my mind was nowhere.

Physically, emotionally, my mind couldn’t cope with it and at stages I was one of those people who asked what is this all about? Or I don’t want this anymore. You begin to question whether it’s worth it. You think after three years you should be better.

I was over in St. Luke’s with Carol my wife, and she saw a poster for Purple House on the notice board. No one had ever mentioned anything about services outside of the hospital. I didn’t know anything about Purple House and Carol was trying to get me to come out to the Centre, but I didn’t want to leave my bedroom.

But in the end Carol got me up to Purple House and things did start to change.

I was nervous coming in the first time.  I used to be a confident person, I was a trainer, I was a regional commissioner in the scouts and I could get up in front of people, now I hate walking into a room where there are four or five people. That hasn’t changed, that’s still there. My self-confidence has gone, but from coming here in the beginning, when I wasn’t able to talk, I was still being tube fed, a lot of things have changed since then.

I thought that if I came to a Cancer Support Centre, all we would do is talk about Cancer.  But in reality Cancer was rarely spoken about except when someone wanted to talk about it and that opened my eyes quite a bit.

Getting involved with the Men’s Group and the garden project where I photographed the project was a major thing for me as I wasn’t able to work, but I had interest in computers and photography, but I hated gardening!  I asked if I could stay with the group even though I didn’t like gardening, and I used my time to photograph the group.  This gave me something to do, not only there but also when I got home.  This was an opener for me and a vital thing for me.  I could then return to the group and show the lads the photos I took and it made me feel good.

I also learnt about my entitlements in Purple House, three years down the road, I didn’t know that Carol could get the carers allowance.  We were also put in touch with MABS through Purple House.  These are the things that are on your mind all the time.

To find out that these entitlements where there all the time, but we didn’t know about them, it was through calling to   Purple House made us aware of all these entitlements.

As a man, coming up here to talk, was not my thing, it took me a long time to open up and talk, you just didn’t do that.

When I went to see the psycho-oncologist in St. Luke’s, because I was in the army and saw things in my life, this was like a cork in a bottle and once I dealt with these issues I could talk about the Cancer.

People should talk, it’s not something to be held in the back of the mind and supressed, let it out.  The more people that know, the less frightening it is.

Go to a Cancer Support Centre a couple of times and just sit and listen, it may be for you, or it may not be for you.  But if you sit and listen, you might find something that will suit you.

I was a very tense person and I used to come to Purple House for a massage and I would start crying every time was it was such a release for me.  I would never have thought that a massage would release things from you head as well as your body.

These things where a great help to me.  I still haven’t got my confidence fully back, but I’m coping with what I have got.  But I have learnt through different methods of coping with my anxiety which allows me to carry on doing things.

I still have regular visits to the hospital for my throat so there is enough room for food to go down, I’m still in treatment as such but it doesn’t cause me any problems.  I’ve learnt over the years what foods I can eat and what suits me.  My life is good, I can go anywhere in the world and know that I can deal with most things.

I have a lot to thank Purple House for, especially for bring me out from where I was.  I used to never leave the house, I would only go as far as the gate and gradually I went further and further and Purple House has a lot to do with that. Purple House, thank you all from the bottom of my heart.


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