Empty Chairs – Craig Mawhinney’s Story

Currently, thanks to advances in research and treatments, three out of every four people diagnosed with blood cancer in Northern Ireland survive. Craig Mawhinney from Castledawson is one of those people.

Craig was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in March 2013 when he was just 25.

Back in 2013, Craig was a busy Air Conditioning Engineer who thought nothing of heavy lifting, high climbing and getting stuck into his job. But one day when he felt pains in his shoulder and an unusual weakness, he knew something was wrong.

He phoned his mum, who immediately contacted their local GP, and alerted girlfriend Catherine who suggested Craig visit A&E. No time was wasted before he was called in for blood tests and after a bone marrow biopsy it was confirmed – Craig had blood cancer.

He began a grueling regime of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and finally a bone marrow transplant due to doctors considering his likelihood of relapse to be high. After many months, Craig was starting to feel normal again and even attempted a few days back at work.

But in December 2014 he felt the familiar pangs in his shoulder that had alerted him in the beginning and he knew the cancer was back.

Craig’s instincts were right, and he had to make a tough decision about how to treat blood cancer the second time around – go for tried and tested methods, or attempt something new and relatively untested. The choice was easy for him – he was prepared to try something new.

He was accepted onto a drug trail of a newly-found antibody drug and began a course of treatment that would last over a year and a half. After a single, 18-month cycle of the treatment, Craig was declared in remission in August 2016.

Now, Craig is moving forward with his life and making plans. In May, he is due to marry Catherine, his long-term sweetheart, whom he credits with always being by his side throughout.

Remission is possible for people like Craig thanks to research done by scientists, like those funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI right here in Belfast. Craig, we salute your bravery – without pioneers like you, trying out new treatments, we can’t move this forward.

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