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Book recounts story of Galway dad who defied the odds



A North Galway dad who has defied the odds by surviving for 16 years with an extremely rare brain tumour as well as inoperable cancers on the brain and spine has fulfilled a lifelong ambition by writing an autobiography.

John Walsh, 39, has published Headcase, the story of his medical adventures which began on his emigration to Germany to begin a dream job.

A native of Liskeavy, three miles outside Milltown, John was 23 when he began working for British Airways in Bremen.

Just weeks later he began to feel unwell, beset with thundering headaches which were diagnosed by successive doctors as panic attacks.

Eventually after a colleague went with him to the hospital to demand answers, he was diagnosed with liponeurocytoma, a form of brain tumour so rare that only 40 cases have been reported in the world since it was first classified in 1978.

John was given a 50:50 chance of making it through his first surgery to remove the tumour located in a precarious spot at the base of the skull beside the brainstem.

His recovery proved very difficult as the pain in his head was excruciating and he had to relearn how to walk and even talk.

He returned to Germany but gave it up shortly to return to live and work in Galway, where he met his wife to be, Edel Tobin.

Five years after his operation, the tumour returned. This time when John went under the knife, the surgeon discovered other growths not visible in the MRI so he was put on a round of radiation for six months.

The day before their wedding he was given a double dose in order to attend the ceremony.

After suffering from chronic back pain, further tests revealed he had developed tumours that were compressing his spine and had to undergo surgery on his lower back three separate times.

After surgery became too risk, John underwent CyberKnife, a very high-tech alternative to conventional radiation or surgery. He became only the 30th patient in Ireland to receive the high doses of radiation delivered to tumours with extreme accuracy.

Despite all the operations and treatment the tumours remain.

“If asked how I’m feeling these days, I tell people I feel like a house on fire. Everyone around me is manning the hoses, but as soon as they manage to extinguish one fire, two fires break out elsewhere. In the past two years especially, it always seems to be an emergency situation,” he writes frankly.

“We don’t have any roadmap for the future, and we don’t know what is going on day to day now. Constant challenges are being thrown in the way especially since 2014. The interventions are getting more frequent and the time lapse between each intervention is getting shorter. The consultants have made it clear that my options are dwindling.”

Through fertility treatment, the couple went on to have two children, Fírinne (5) and Ríain (3). Nine months ago Edel gave birth to Saorla, who was conceived naturally.

They live in Salthill. John has worked with the HSE since 2004 throughout his illness even managing to get a degree in addiction studies. He currently works for the child and family agency, Tusla.

For John, one of the most effective coping strategies throughout has been support groups and group therapy sessions.

“When you feel as if no one else understands, it’s therapeutic to be around others who are in a similar situation. There’s a camaraderie that develops very quickly in this kind of unique clique. You discover that everyone else feels the same gnawing anxiety, and many are in the depths of a black depression,” he reflects.

“There’s shorthand between everyone and we all nod in understanding when someone discusses those long nights when the cold terror of dying keeps you awake. Tackling anxiety and always living on a knife-edge are issues that are very much to the fore in cancer support groups.”

However, the book is certainly not all doom and gloom. John insists that illness has changed him for the better.

“It took that diagnosis of a brain tumour to level me and bring me back down to earth.

The cumulative effect of so many medical blows has possibly resulted in lowering my self-esteem even further. There’s a certain amount of guilt and self-blame that goes with recurring illness.

“But it’s fair to say, I’m an entirely different man, and probably a much nicer one, than the man I was then. I have far more empathy with people and far more patience with people in general. I never rush to judge anyone now because there are so many things we don’t know about other peoples’ lives.”

Despite travelling to the States twice for a second opinion, John has been told definitively his treatment in Galway and Dublin is the best he can receive.

“I’m battle scarred and battle hardened, but I’m still here, and still loving life. They say I’m running out of options now, but I’m still not out of options. Even though the outlook has been very grim many times in the past, I’ve not only survived, but I’m still enjoying a good quality of life,” he writes.

“Two years ago, I could barely move and was days away from being in a wheelchair when Cyber Knife surgery saved me. Something that wasn’t an option even five years ago is now keeping me alive so you never know what other revolutionary treatment is just around the corner.

“Living with illness is not easy, in fact, it’s been a huge struggle and seems overwhelming at times, but mostly we manage to live a normal life. Every day is a good day when I can get out of the bed and get the kids ready and go to work.”

Headcase is on sale in selected book stores and via Amazon priced at €14.99. A contribution from the sale of each book will be donated to Cancer Care West.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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