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‘The consultant seemed quite surprised, after looking at my scans, that I was still alive’

Alan Markey ended up in hospital after days of worsening back pain and weight loss

Alan Markey was in his mid twenties when, in February 2022, he began to experience back pain. Initially, he put it down to wear and tear from playing Gaelic football, and continued to play with the aid of painkillers. But as the intensity increased and he was unable to sleep, he went to see his doctor who referred him for an investigative scan.

“It had reached the point where I couldn’t keep a meal down or stand up straight,” he says. “I had lost four or five kilos and was really sick but, despite that, my mam had to drag me to A&E. Prior to this, I had been to different physios with the back pain but they were all scratching their heads [about the cause] and my GP had prescribed pain medication. I thought that the worst-case scenario would be a bulging disc in my back but a few days before going to the hospital, I had found a lump in my testicle.

“So I was dragged into A&E by my mam on June 8th, 2022. I could barely walk at this stage as I had pain everywhere. I overheard another patient saying that the wait time to be seen was over eight hours and I begged Mam to take me home and to come back in the morning, but she wouldn’t. This was lucky because, if she wasn’t as stubborn as I am, I wouldn’t be here right now. One of the nurses is a friend of my girlfriend Eilis. She could see the pain I was in, and got me tracked through. Once I was lying on a trolley the pain eased a bit and then I was put through a full body scan, which revealed I had lesions on my liver, kidneys and in my lungs. I had to admit that I didn’t have a clue what that meant, but I knew I was in big trouble.”

Although the Monaghan man knew his condition was serious, he didn’t consider cancer and was shocked after hearing his official diagnosis, which resulted in an urgent transfer to hospital in Dublin.


“When I was in Drogheda hospital, the severity of everything didn’t hit me as everything seemed kind of okay because I was connected to a machine, which had a button I could press whenever I felt pain.

“I had more tests and needed a bit of oxygen and, a few days later, I had a visit from a consultant from Beaumont Hospital who seemed quite surprised, after looking at my scans, that I was still alive. He delivered the bombshell that I was in big trouble and I was told we didn’t have much time – looking back I think he was talking about hours. I was blue-lighted to Beaumont, bypassing A&E and the chemo was already hanging in the ward waiting for me.

“For the first time, I was scared.

“At this point, I had become more dependent on oxygen and was moved to ICU with the possibility of going on life-support because of the pressure my lungs were under. I don’t think I was ever, or will ever be, as scared as I was in those hours as I really thought that was going to be that. I went in and out of consciousness and was then transferred to the Mater hospital.”

Once arriving at the Mater, Alan underwent a chest drain and was given several units of blood. He was put on life-support and his family was told he may not survive. This situation continued for several days. He was taken off life-support several times, however, his symptoms deteriorated each time and so he was placed back on it.

His family was encouraged to come to his bedside and to prepare for the worst.

Thankfully, over the course of a few days, life took a different turn and doctors began to notice a slight improvement in his condition. He continued to stay on life support while also receiving chemotherapy for cancer. After completing four rounds of treatment, after 13 weeks, he was finally discharged and allowed home to his family where he began his slow recovery.

“I remember waking up in the hospital but not really knowing much else,” he says. “I had lost my voice, my hair, my strength and almost half my body weight. I had tubes coming out of me from just about everywhere and the next few weeks were the longest of my life. I woke every morning at 6am as I found it difficult to sleep in ICU – I watched TV each morning, followed by sessions with a physio, who was initially just trying to get me to sit up and take deep breaths – this felt like running a marathon.

“There was still Covid around and because my immune system was weak, I was only allowed two visitors at a time due to restrictions. It was nice to see family, but I couldn’t talk because of my breathing machine so it still felt very lonely.

“It took a long time for them to be able to reduce the amount of oxygen I needed to get by, and then to start being able to talk and after that to eat and drink again. This then was followed by work to build up my strength in order to be able to stand and walk again. I remember looking with jealousy at some of the 80-year-old patients in my ward because of how fast they were in comparison to me. But in the end, I was so fortunate as the doctors and nurses in the Mater hospital saved my life, with the help of a lot of prayers from family and friends.”

Today, the 26-year-old is in good health and says he is almost fully better. He would advise anyone with any niggling concerns to get them checked out immediately as early detection is crucial.

Cancer has changed his outlook and he is now grateful to be alive and looking forward to the future. “I am almost back to the physical shape I was in before my diagnosis and [judging by] my day-to-day [appearance] you could never know I was sick,” he says.

“I am living life to the full and 2023 was one of the best years of my life – I am taking life one day at a time, but making the most of it and have left the country nine times [on holiday] since being discharged from the hospital. My lungs are taking a lot longer to recover as they have collapsed several times, so although I am not a ‘worse-case scenario’ kind of guy, I also try not to underthink a situation either. And with that, I know that regular screening, blood checks and self checks are hugely important – I believe that we only have one life, so we should be trying to protect it.

“For a while I was using my cancer diagnosis as a crutch, or an excuse [not to do things] and I would ask why did it happen to me. But life comes at you fast and you realise how short it is when it comes so close to its ending. Having cancer was the biggest test of my life. So, these days, I don’t overthink things and don’t get down in the dumps over the small things.

“I try not to focus on the life I could have had and just make the best of the one I do have. I am using the experience as a sword now – and am trying to get back to playing the sport that I love and competing with lads my own age – and not the 80 year olds in the hospital wards.”

Common symptoms of testicular cancer

  • A painless lump or swelling in a testicle
  • Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum
  • An enlarged testicle or a change in the way it feels
  • A heavy feeling in the scrotum
  • If the cancer has spread, you may get:
  • A dull ache in your back
  • Tenderness in the breast area
  • Stomach ache
  • Shortness of breath
  • A painless lump in the side of the neck

For more information, contact the Cancer Nurseline on freephone 1800 200 700 or email

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Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories