MyLastingImpression Jim Dornan
What would go through your mind if you were faced with a blood cancer?
Jim Dornan, from Crawfordsburn, Co. Down led an active lifestyle playing tennis every Sunday morning, regular rounds of golf and visiting the gym a couple of times a week.
Then 2005, aged 57, his life changed when he found out he had chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.
Jim was working very hard as an obstetrician and gynaecologist and had just taken on an additional role in London. While walking back to his flat in London, which he shared with his son Jamie, he noticed shortness of breath. As soon as he arrived home he looked in the mirror and realised he was anaemic. Jim ate a good diet and knew he was not losing blood anywhere and made the self-diagnosis he had form of leukaemia. For Jim the discovery was like a train crash.
He arrived back in Belfast the following day and went straight to the City Hospital to have his bloods checked. Doctors initially thought he had acute myeloid leukaemia. Jim thought he was going to die and looked out of the high rise hospital window towards Co. Down where he lived and wondered if he would ever be back there.
Less than 24 hours after receiving the terrifying news, a doctor contacted Jim to relay the news that it’s as fearful as they first thought. They confirmed he had chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Jim, being a doctor himself, understood doctors sometimes get it wrong and make mistakes, they are humans after all.
A treatment plan, no different to the time when Jim was a medical student was suggested but he said no and asked for an alternative therapy. An hour later, after his doctor consulted a world expert based in England, he started monoclonal antibodies; he was the first person in Northern Ireland to do so. It was some 6-7 years later NICE, the national institute for health and care excellence, agreed Jim’s plan would be the new frontline treatment plan for all chronic lymphocytic leukaemia patients.
Since being faced with his own mortality, Jim has made many changes in his life. He prioritises people and causes that are important to him and credits his health scare to helping him find a better work life balance. Jim has also co-founded Afterbook.com, a digital platform to record and tell stories to leave for love ones, with his daughter Jess.
A number of Jim’s family and friends including his first wife and mother to his children succumbed to cancer, which has been a very low point in his life. Some cancers, he comments, are as a result of living a certain lifestyle but there are a few cancers that are totally indiscriminate.
Doctors don’t have the answer to everything, admits Jim, but the answer is out there and the only way to cure these diseases is to support the experts doing research and the only way to achieve that is with money – it really is a simple formula.
For the 99 people diagnosed with blood cancer every month in Northern Ireland, they know the fear that comes with this news – will I live to see my daughter get married? Who will take care of my pets if I’m not here? Will I be able to run another marathon?
But there is hope.
Thanks to scientists based here in Belfast, funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI, three out of four people in Northern Ireland diagnosed with blood cancer survive.
But for that one in four there’s still work to be done.
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