I feel like my life started in 2013. That’s when my outlook changed completely. I set up an awareness campaign called Fighting Fit For Ewing’s and started taking on physical challenges, which were so important to my rehabilitation.
Over the next few years, I took on the four Irish mountain peaks challenge and completed it in 32 hours. I travelled to Iceland in February 2016 to scale the Sólheimajökull glacier and also completed the Fan Dance – a 24km trek through the Brecon Beacons in Wales.
I completed all of these challenges on crutches – I’ve had two hip replacements following a rare childhood cancer diagnosis (Ewing’s Sarcoma) in 2002, when I was 16.
I was in 5th year in school and, by the time I came out of treatment, I was 19 and my friends were a year into college. I found myself with no Leaving Cert, living through them. Everything I was doing was student orientated, but I wasn’t a student.
I returned to adult education when I was about a year out of treatment and studied the Leaving Certificate cycle for a year and a half but unfortunately ended up in hospital again. Radiotherapy had destroyed the bone in my right hip. I had nerve damage from the operation to remove the tumour and the bone was crumbling and I was unable to move for a year so once again.
I had my first hip replacement just before my 21st birthday. The post-op pain was nothing compared to the pain I’d had prior to the operation. I tried again to complete the Leaving Cert course, but I was really struggling third time around and I felt like I’d been left behind. My original school friends had moved on, the friends I’d made the first time I went to adult education had moved on and I was still here. I couldn’t do it again.
Thankfully I spoke to someone at the VEC and they directed me to an access course in St. Angela’s College in Sligo, which would give me access to third level in NUI Galway without the Leaving Cert.
Unfortunately, my health took a downward spiral again when I was in Galway. The pain was back and I ended up having to leave because I wasn’t able to walk independently anymore. I felt that going back on crutches was a step backwards. I was quite stubborn about that, when using crutches probably would have meant I could have stayed in college longer.
I have been using crutches since my second hip replacement in 2012, because I have a 10cm leg length discrepancy. It’s changed the way I do things, but it hasn’t stopped me doing anything. I did so much living in those years when I started the challenges and I’m so grateful for that.
When the world shut down last year, so did my gym and my regular treatments, like physio. My day job is usually quite active, but I was suddenly desk based and for the first time, my back was really struggling.
I started to worry about my dependency on painkillers for the first time ever, because other ways of managing the pain were gone. All I had was walking and painkillers.
I’m under a team in Birmingham and when I saw the consultant in 2016, I said an outright no to surgery, because it presented a risk to my mobility. So, we agreed to hold off until my quality of life deteriorated. Now I want to up my adventuring but I’m in too much pain and my back won’t improve until my hip is sorted. With reduced mobility, I could at least push through, so surgery is back on the agenda.
I’m weirdly excited about the possibilities with surgery. Eventually, I’m looking at right leg amputation, which I’m terrified of, but I’ve met people who’ve been through it and they’re flying it.
Ultimately, I feel positive about the next steps. I feel like I’m still in the middle of the story and I keep thinking about my biggest adventure, which is to climb Kilimanjaro. It’s been my screen saver since 2019! I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I will.