Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Cancer ... how i defied the odds

Six years ago an aggressive tumour forced Oliver Turkington, a 33-year-old accountant from Moira, to have part of his leg amputated. He was told he would never live to see his 30th birthday. Here he tells Karen Ireland why he believes he is a medical miracle.

People often comment that I mustn't sleep very well at night. They seem to feel I should be lying in bed thinking about the fact that I shouldn't be here. But when I go to bed at night, I sleep like a log. That's what bed is for, isn't it? If I was lying worrying about what might have happened to me - or what could still happen - that would mean I hadn't accepted things.

People often comment that I mustn't sleep very well at night. They seem to feel I should be lying in bed thinking about the fact that I shouldn't be here. But when I go to bed at night, I sleep like a log. That's what bed is for, isn't it? If I was lying worrying about what might have happened to me - or what could still happen - that would mean I hadn't accepted things.

I have accepted my fate and moved on. If I die tomorrow, I've had a pretty good life - and five more years than I was told I would have.

Since I was diagnosed with cancer I have been very accepting, positive and focused. I don't dwell on it too much. To me, that is pointless.

The first inkling that anything was wrong was at the beginning of 1999. I was on holiday in the Caribbean and found that I couldn't water-ski as my leg was swollen and very painful.

I came home and had it checked out at hospital. They couldn't find anything wrong, but weeks later it was still bothering me and I went back to the hospital.

Eventually I was referred to Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast, where I had a series of tests.

I remember going to see the consultant and a lot of people patting me on the back. Everyone was treating me with kid gloves, and it took a while for it to sink in that I was about to get bad news.

Naively, I asked the doctor would I be off work for a day or two? He replied that I would be off for a long time as I required surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

I was finally diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called synovial sarcoma, a very aggressive type of tumour which meant I would have to have part of my leg removed.

On June 22, 1999, I had my leg amputated from the calf down. I was determined to get up and about as soon as possible. Six weeks after the operation I was back on the golf course in a buggy and I went back to work at the end of July.

The following year was spent getting used to life and learning to walk again. During that time I had great support from the staff at Musgrave Park Hospital, who helped me get used to life with my new prosthetic limb.

Things were pretty good until a quarterly check-up revealed the cancer was back and I had secondary tumours in my lungs. Investigations revealed I had 12 on one lung and 14 on the other.

On June 22, 2000, a year on from losing my leg, I was told I had six to 12 months to live. Basically, the prognosis was that nothing more could be done and I should just go home and enjoy what little was left of my life.

Even then I refused to contemplate being terminally ill. I just felt like it wasn't my time. I had too much still to do. I sought a second opinion from a top oncologist in London. He confirmed things were pretty grim and that even with treatment the most I could expect was two years, and they would be miserable and full of pain and constant treatment.

I decided to give the chemo a shot and was planning to go for my first treatment when my mum got a phone call which I believe saved my life. A friend of hers had heard of a doctor in the Republic who had had success with sarcoma patients using alternative medicines and treatments.

I decided to give him a ring and the following day I was on the road to Clare to see Pascal Carmody, whose methods are unorthodox and alternative.

At the minute he is fighting to clear his name after being struck off by the Irish Medicines Board on charges relating to some of the remedies he was prescribing and selling.

But I for one defend him all the way. In my mind I wouldn't be here without him. Conventional medicines couldn't save me, but I believe he did.

I had a range of treatments from intensive heat therapy and light treatment to herbal tablets and remedies. Initially when I went to see him my peak flow breathing test was scoring 400, but after three weeks I was reaching 700, which is among the top percentage.

Yes, it cost me as his treatments weren't cheap (another thing for which believe he is being persecuted), but I was in a position to afford them and at the end of the day what price can you put on someone's life?

My mum and dad helped out financially too - they would have done anything to keep me here.

I am still here and have defied all the odds. I decided on that alternative path and have never looked back.

That's not to say the tumours have gone away. I honestly don't know whether they have and I don't want to know either. I haven't had any conventional check-ups since and that's the way it will stay.

Why should I? I am doing okay. I am working, playing golf, travelling and like the odd pint now and again. Life is normal for me now and that's the way I like it.

I am tough and so are my parents, but it hasn't always been easy.

I wouldn't have coped without my friends and family and their support and loyalty.

I don't have the new outlook or lease of life that some people think comes with a brush with death. I have always been a positive person and I am the same me. The only difference is I have to hop to the toilet in the middle of the night now.

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