A man who has been diagnosed with stage four cancer and given 18-months to live has revealed the outpouring support he has received from the Donegal community over the last several months.
Francis Donnelly, 49, is a local musician who travelled around Ireland performing before he received the devastating news that he said ‘broke’ his family’s heart.
For several years, Donnelly received treatment for a lesion on the brain that was of ‘no great concern’ before going for his final scan of the year on Christmas week 2018.
Following the revelation from his partner, Edel, to his consultant, Donnelly attended a brain scan after revealing he had been suffering from an erratic movement in his left eye.
On January 31, Donnelly, who lives just outside Ballybofey, was told that a stage four cancer tumour had developed on the brain and there was nothing they could do for him.
“I had no symptoms, all I had was a flicker on the left eye,” he said. “I had a lesion on the front of the brain and they thought that it could start multiple sclerosis. So, I kept going for my scans every six months and there was no change whatsoever and I went to see my consultant and he was happy.
“He said that he had noticed that I previously lost power on my left-hand side but it had returned, by that stage I was playing more music. I had thrown myself back into it and I was playing steady, the relay for life, every possible charity gig I could.
“He was happy and wanted to do one more scan and I told me I wouldn’t have to see him again. And it was just as I was jumping off the table, my partner Edel said to tell him about the flicker in your eye.”
Mr Donnelly explained how the initial problem started when he began playing local gigs around the county were lights would cause a flicker of the eye or an irregular blind spot.
“When I told the doctor he immediately said he would like to take a look and so they sent for me on Christmas week.
“When I heard that, I told my partner that I wasn’t going on the week of Christmas because she had to bury a grandchild the year before and I didn’t want to destroy Christmas again but, they sent for me on the 20th of December.
“I got the scan and then I went back and I remember walking in and they couldn’t find my file and I heard the girl saying that it was in with the oncology department and I said to the girl did I hear correctly and she told me I hadn’t.
“But I later walked into the room and the doctor was there and she told me what I had and explained how they had discussed my case and if it was what they thought it was, a tumour, that they couldn’t do nothing for me.
“Nothing, no hope.
“And I thought Fu**ing hell, it was like being hit with a sledgehammer,” Donnelly said.
Francis soon underwent surgery five weeks ago on February 6 to determine what treatment was viable and what could potentially shrink the tumour or lengthen the time he had left.
“They told me that I was going to have an operation and what they were going to do was to go in and take a sample of the tumour to see what they were dealing with.
“And tell me what treatment was available for me at this stage and what would buy me some extra time.
“But they warned me before I underwent the operation that I could come out blind, paralysed or, because the blood vessels were all through the tumour, that I could bleed out and die on the table.
“Well, I just looked at her in disbelief. One minute I could be bought time, the next I could die.
“All I could do was laugh at that moment,” he said.
“I have come out of it now and I have all my faculties about me and when I was in the hospital I see people who are worse than me, younger people, so I count myself fortunate.”
While the original plan was to take a sample of the tumour, the surgeon in charge managed to remove most of the cancerous growth from Donnelly’s brain as he prepares to under further treatment for the disease in Belfast today.
“She has most of the tumour removed and all that is left now is residue but, the only problem is, it is aggressive and at times things start to take their toll on me. I can’t do what I was once able to do.”
Life for Francis and his family has been difficult over the last three and a half months but he stressed at times all you can do is stay positive and believe that he will beat the life-threatening disease.
“All you can do is stay positive,” Donnelly explained. “I count myself lucky because I was able to get up and hug my surgeon and thank her for the work that she was able to do for me.
“But then as you walk around the hospital and see these young people who have very little quality of life and have not been as lucky as I have been, and I have 49-years over me, that puts it really into perspective,” Donnelly added.
“I think about that and all I can do is stay positive and I even wanted to get back to my music the weekend after my surgery but they told me I couldn’t perform so soon after my operation.
“But I went back to have a meeting with them about it and I told them that I wanted to continue with my music and they agreed that I could perform as much as I liked before my next stage of treatment started on March 26th.
“I played two gigs on Paddy’s night and it was the worst thing I ever have done,” Donnelly laughed.
“I thought to myself, I should have listened to my doctor.
“I felt so vulnerable, my vision was blurred and I couldn’t even play the chords correctly and that would’ve never have happened before in my life.
“I felt like a child because I needed someone to tell me what to do next, I needed Edel.
“That’s all I have left, my music, and I can’t bear to have that taken away from me.
“I can’t drive anymore, Edel has to do all the driving and I can’t even fill out a form because I can’t see the thing. All I have left is music.”
After revealing the news to the wider community, Donnelly’s music colleagues decided to put together a fundraising show to support the local artist with his treatment.
“All the people that I would’ve played with on the social dancing scene decided to put this event together for me and it has just got bigger and bigger as I prepare to start my treatment.
“I had thoughts of cancelling the event because I am about to start it but I came around and I decided to go ahead and enjoy the celebration with all of my music friends.
“I am really looking forward to it and will be a good nights craic and the banter will be great, that is what life is about.
“The amount of support I have received over the past couple of months has been incredible,” he added. “From people I have never met in my life to Daniel O’Donnell, the support and words of encouragement have been incredible.
“So, the proceeds will go towards my treatment but I want to give money to a cancer charity.”
Despite his difficulties, Donnelly is adamanat that the cancer would not stop him from doing things close to his heart.
“On Sunday, I took another notion and I want to climb Mount Errigal this year and whatever I make I am going to donate to relay for life and for autism.
“So, I ain’t going to let it stop me and Edel’s little boy who has autism always put a smile on my face and he lights up my whole world.
“We spend a lot of time together and he makes me laugh.
“I told Edel I can’t leave him because I need him more than he needs me because no matter how bad things are, the minute I walk into the room he makes everything go away.
“I won’t give up.”
The Fundraising Dance for Francis Donnelly will take place this Thursday night (March 28th) in Biddy Friels, at 7:30pm with musicians including Johnny Carroll, John Hogan and Olivia Douglas playing on the night.
TV personality Paddy Doherty, magician Dylan Murray and local radio presenter Tommy Rosney will also all be in attendance.Tags: