DIFFICULT JOURNEY Mark and Marie Hayes, with their twin girls, Olivia and Emma. Pic: Elizabeth Toher
Mark Hayes has been battling cancer since 2017, and he’s not prepared to throw in the towel
In May 2017, Mark and Marie Hayes were on top of the world when, after 12 years of waiting, Marie gave birth to their twin girls, Olivia and Emma. “It was like a hundred Christmasses coming at once when we realised we were expecting twins,” Mark explained.
Heart wrenchingly, the joy of the girls’ arrival was cut short just three months later, when this Shrule family’s world started to crumble. Mark had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer aged just 39.
“We never gave up on the idea of having kids,” Mark told The Mayo News. “We were waiting 12 years for the babies to come along, and then you’re hit with this. It was devastating.” It was the start of years of heartache for the couple.
Following chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the cancerous tumour was removed in February 2018. The initial treatment for the cancer was deemed a success, and after a lengthly recovery, Mark felt he could go back to his job as a secondary school teacher in Coláiste Mhuirlinne in Galway City that September.
It proved a false dawn, however. That November, a scan showed that the cancer had spread to the liver.
Mark celebrated New Year’s Eve 2019 in the Corrib Ward in University Hospital Galway as he underwent intensive chemotherapy to reduce the cancerous lesions ahead of surgery. The chemotherapy was a success, and in May, Mark had over 50 percent of his liver removed in St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. As before, the prognosis for a full recovery was good.
“After my liver resection in May everything seemed to be great, and I was convinced I would be back to normal and everything would be great,” Mark said.
“I was going in for my last round of preventative treatment when the oncologist said the MRI showed something there. Instead of going in for my last round, it was the start of round three. It was a hammer blow.”
In the last week, Mark started an even stronger round of chemotherapy in Galway University Hospital to reduce the cancerous lesions in the liver. Failure to reduce them will prevent surgeons from being able to operate on the liver.
Mark’s treatment has come to a stage where his oncologist in Galway has told him he is free to get a second opinion.
“I’m still very hopeful the chemo will work, but our options are running out. It is a hard thing to to say. But if they say another liver surgery isn’t possible that will be a major blow. As far as I am concerned, the best scenario would be to get whatever treatments are available and get the surgery and get it removed. It is getting serious now.
“You are talking about [me having had] a colon resection, a liver resection and a possible another one … there is only so much you can do. It is getting to a stage that it can’t go on forever,” he said.
Through research, the family discovered new treatments not available in Ireland or the UK, such as an immunotherapy treatment called Dendritic Cell Therapy (DCT), which is available in clinics in Spain and Germany. They are also considering another type of radiotherapy called Proton Beam Therapy.
The treatment is expensive, and Mark’s family and friends have set up a Go Fund Me page to help finance the treatment, if it is needed. In four days, they raised €23,000 of a €100,000 target. At time of going to print, they had raised over €29,000.
Asking people for donations is something Mark never imagined he would have to do, but admits he feels he has no other choice.
“I have always been a private person and never thought I would be in this situation, but you learn to accept help. At the moment it is about my family and make sure I am there for them. Three years ago I would have had a different outlook but now I realise the more open you are the more it can help. When you get to this stage of an illness, pride goes out the window and you accept help.”
A native of Athlone, Mark met Marie while studying to be a teacher in UCD and they married in 2005. They decided to locate close to Marie’s home place in Headford, and they built a house in Kilmacduagh, Shrule. Both commute to work in Galway.
A fit and healthy man, Mark said the diagnosis was a ‘bolt out of the blue’ and a cruel blow, coming as it did so soon after the birth of their twins.
“Unfortunately, Marie’s maternity leave was a mixture of looking after twin girls and a husband diagnosed with cancer. It was a happy and a tough time at the same time,” he said.
Remarkably, despite all the setbacks, Mark says he remains positive about the road ahead of him. He is determined to fight the disease. He says he has no other choice: He owes it to Marie and his two girls to do whatever he can to beat the illness.
“Without being too sentimental about it, Marie, Olivia and Emma have pulled the whole lot of us through it. Marie has always had my back and is on the ball with everything. She researches everything and doesn’t leave a stone unturned. I don’t think I’d have had that strength in me without Marie and the girls to drive through the last few years.
“Christmas is not going to be nice. I thought things were going better and the treatment would be over by Christmas, and I’d have the surgery in the New Year, but that went out the window. I was in hospital last New Year’s Eve in the Corrib Ward, and that was a bit of a washout.
“I was trying to avoid it this year, but more than likely the day before Christmas Eve I will be hooked up to the pumps again. You do what you have to do.”