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Sean Harkin wishes to empower other patients

by | Jun 2, 2020 | Personal Stories - Blogs

Well here we are, back in 2015; A New Year, a new start. So, what’s my resolutions going to be this year?
I’m 41 years old so should I ssean-and-boystress less about my Mom’s health? Lose weight? Keep fit? Hit sales targets? Go for that promotion? Travel more? Clear debts? Shame I forgot one of the most crucial agenda points in anyone’s life; good health!
Now, don’t get me wrong, during my life I have always been active. I grew up playing sports and in particular football. I signed a three-year professional contract with Manchester City on my 17th birthday.
After football, I still maintained going to the gym regularly and running on average 25/30 km a-week, as well as doing weight sessions.
Also, I coached football in USA and had the best time ever covering 25 US States.
I enjoy meals out with my wife and family, I like a beer or red wine and enjoy a normal sensible diet… with some nice Cadbury’s chocolate.
I work for a great firm called Lyreco, with great people, since 2012 and I’ve never looked back. Office supplies is the name of our game, and I love it as I get to meet all kinds of different people each day working outside the office in field sales.
There’s the pressure of hitting sales targets and winning new business but, have found I’m fairly consistent at achieving this and have earned a good living from it. I have some great laughs with my fellow colleagues; many are now long term friends.
Work have a sales seminar in Northampton on Monday morning but, across the weekend I haven’t been feeling too well, experiencing flu like symptoms and night sweats. I suffered a lot in previous years with Swine Flu, Shingles (horrible!) and various coughs & colds. So, I went to bed on the Sunday night saying, to my lovely wife Maria, I’ll see how I feel in the morning as I’ve never been someone to take time off work.
Monday morning comes round and I feel totally exhausted and can’t get out of bed The following day I feel a bit better and go back to work, though I’m still not feeling 100%.
March sean and maria
10th March is Maria’s birthday and we go to Stratford-on-Avon for the day, to a nice Italian restaurant for lunch and drinks. We have a great day with lots of fun!
11th March I go to work and I’m looking forward to my gym session in the evening. I get changed and off I go again, my body is feeling a bit lethargic but I tell myself I’ll get through. I’ve drunk loads of water beforehand and need the loo. To my absolute horror, blood comes out in my urine?!!!! Horrible tea bag red colour?!!!!
Straight away my heart starts racing, my head, heart and gut tells me that something is seriously wrong here. I immediately call Maria to tell her, she says that its probably nothing but I should go to the doctor tomorrow. I carry on and do the gym session but I have serious alarm bells going off in my head. I know what I saw wasn’t right.
As soon as I get in the car I call doctors and book and appointment for the morning.
12th March – I met my Area Sales Manager, Stuart Goodman, today for a normal working day. He jumps in my car and I tell him all about my episode last night and that I have to go the doctors first thing. No problem, he says and waits for me in the car. Great boss Stu and now a firm friend!
I go in to my appointment with great trepidation as I know that deep down something is seriously wrong but, the other voice in my head tells me ‘it’s nothing’, as are other people, but I know different. If there is one thing I’ve learnt in life, it is always go with your gut feeling, it’s never far off the mark.
I walk into the GP’ consulting room, and I am greeted by a bit of a stern looking middle aged lady, I can’t remember her name now as she’s now left the surgery. I found out later that she had a reputation for being very black and white with her views and the look on her face said “here’s another hypochondriac!”
DR- “So what’s going with you then?”
ME- “I’ve felt flu like symptoms/night sweats and have blood in my urine.”
DR- “OK, can you go and do a urine sample for me and will do usual checks BP/Bloods etc.”
So, off I go to the toilet, test tube in hand, pee as directed and guess what; the urine looks clear! Phew, I tell myself, it must have been a one off? I go back into the room and GP checks my urine sample.
She does the tests and all of sudden her demeanor changes to ‘OK this guy is no hypochondriac’. She tells me there are traces of blood in my urine and examines me further, asking if I have back or loin pain. I say ‘yes’, but I have always struggled with back and hamstring issues due to football and running so didn’t think anything of it.
From there the GP books me into Q E Hospital in Birmingham the following Friday for tests and states that ‘it will be in the cancer ward, but try not to be alarmed’! OK, I say but feel like I want a hole to open and swallow me up.
My first thought is how do I tell Maria? I can’t tell my Mom either as she is suffering a bit of dementia and other health issues and I know this would really upset her. I do tell Stu and he is great about everything and tells me to do whatever I need to do.
13th March
Arrive at the Q E Hospital Birmingham with Maria and feel like I’m in a bad dream. Cancer Department for me? ME! I’m not overweight, I’ve never smoked, I don’t drink loads and I exercise!
As it turns out I’m going for a bladder scan. Any guy who has had one of these will know it’s definitely not a barrel of laughs! The burning sensation afterwards was awful!
It turns out my scan was clear of anything, so it’s decided to move on to ‘Plan B’ and I will receive another appointment date through the post.
I wait a few weeks and the letter comes through for a 20th April appointment. During this time I had no other ‘blood in my urine’ issues and started to think it was a one off. I, though, did have my usual back pain which felt like a leather strap across the right hand side of my back.
20th April
Maria and I are back at the Q E and this time I’m having CT and ultrasound scans. CT was fine, down the tunnel I go, having a laugh with the staff, who were great. It’s the ultrasound next and the nurse pours the cold gel on my back and starts to scan around it. At one point she stopped the device for around 10 seconds and paused, she doesn’t say anything but there is a bit of an awkward silence. Then, all done and I get down off the couch and told the results will be back in about 2 to 3-weeks.
1st May
I go to work as normal and I’m looking forward to a few days off at the weekend. By lunchtime I start to feel a bit unwell so call Stu who says go home and take it easy, so I take his advise and go home. When I’m at home the symptoms get worse and start being sick and what’s coming out is green as grass! I experience terrible pains across my back and I’m crawling on the floor! Maria is at work so I call her and tell her I really need to go to hospital but can’t drive myself and unfortunately Maria can’t drive at all!
Within 30-minutes, Maria turns up with her dad who helps me into the car and they drive me to Redditch Hospital. I arrive and this is the first time in my life I really felt like I was dying! The pain was excruciating!
I said to Maria please get someone to help me as I’m going to pass out, fortunately I was fast tracked to see a doctor who gave me two co-codamol which, amazingly, settled me down.
I’m put into a room and told I would be seen as soon as possible and while I’m waiting I give lots of urine samples and everyone of them was full of blood unfortunately.
I was in there six-hours but I was sedated and feeling OK. Then low-and-behold my sister-in-law Gail and her family, who had just arrived back from holiday, came straight to the hospital. That’s something I have never forgotten!
About 10 pm the doctor comes in and discharges me and says they will wait and see what my scan results are from the Q E. So, I go home and I feel OK, although I am taking co-codamol and this is something I’m not comfortable with as don’t like taking medications.
7th May
I spent the last week waiting for any sign of results. People asking me all the time “any results”, “you’ll be fine it’s probably nothing” or “its kidney stones which I’ve googled and you have all the symptoms.” I’m sure I know different and my gut feeling isn’t a good one.
I speak to Stu who asks me the same questions and then says “hang on why don’t you call Aviva Insurance? You have private cover through Lyreco?” Sure enough I call Aviva who can set me up an appointment tomorrow morning 9:30am at Edgbaston Priory Private Hospital to get my scan results. Great, I say thank you, at long last I get to find out as the waiting has been really hard.
FRIDAY 8th May 2015
I wake up and Maria has nail clients booked and I tell her to just carry on as I’m sure it’s just kidney stones and all will be fine. We are not only husband and wife but great soulmates.
I arrive at The Priory in Edgbaston at 9:30 am and the doctor calls me into his room. He is a really nice man, whose name now escapes me. He had a lovely demeanor.
DR- “So, Sean do you have anyone with you?”
ME- “No, I’m on my own as I only got my appointment yesterday“.
DR- “Have you seen your scan results?” as he gathers his paperwork.
ME- “No. I’m just desperate to know what’s wrong with me, I suspect it’s kidney stones?”
DR- “I’m really sorry to have to tell you that you have kidney cancer and you have a 6 to 7 cm tumour in your right kidney. We are unsure at this stage if its contained in your kidney or if there is any spread. Only a scan can determine what our next course of action is. I wont be your consultant it will be Mr Rupesh Bhatt who is a renowned surgeon and brilliant with urology patients. You will be in good hands.”
ME- “WOW! Where is that hole now!”
He then gave me his number and said if I have any other questions please call him. I have to say he was absolutely brilliant with me looking back, as that can’t have been an easy conversation to deliver.
I get out to the car park feeling like my whole world has caved in. How an earth am I going to tell anyone this bombshell? My phone goes and its Maria! I blank the call and soon after she texts me “how have you got on?” I blank that too. Phone rings again and it’s my good mate from work Mark Allsopp asking how have I got on? I tell him and I can’t remember what he said to this day but it would have been encouragement.
I get into the car and the phone rings again, its Maria. I blank the call again. I then call Stuart who answers the phone in his usual breezy manner “here he is” he says, “how did you get on kid?” I tell him my news and it’s like time is standing still. He tells me to go home straight away and divert my phone.
Priory Edgbaston is near to St Joseph’s Care Home where my Mom is being looked after by Catholic Nuns. It’s an amazing place where patient care always comes before making money. I call in and see Mom, who next to Maria is my best mate. I desperately want to burst into tears when she tells me I’m not looking well but hold back as I don’t want to upset her. I tell her I think I have a grumbling appendix. Everyone in St Joseph’s for the next month is asking if my appendix is OK!!!!
I stay with Mom for about an hour as I know Maria has clients in but she’d be finished around lunchtime. Who do I call? I need to speak to someone; I feel desperate. My uncle George and aunt Marian are two of the greatest people I am lucky enough to know. They would do anything for anyone, at anytime.
I call and Marian answers and asks me,  “what are your results?” I give her the news, “it’s cancer, Sean” she says in disbelief. After that, I can’t remember anything else about the conversation. I then had the similar conversation with my sister, Clare who lives in Ireland.
Several Maria missed calls/texts later I arrive at her nailbar around lunchtime. Her business partner and friend Debbie comes out first, we always had great laughs, and she comes to my window asking how did I get on….. and I tell her. I get the first sight of of many at the look of disbelief on her face. Maria then emerges and my heart starts to race, here we go how an earth am I going to break this news?
Maria gets in and her lovely face looks ashen with worry and I’m really sad that my silly body is putting her through this. I tell her the news and we embrace and shed many tears, we then go home and both fall into massive panic mode. The stress starts to take hold and my poor wife takes on the mantle of my secretary speaking to Aviva.
9th May
Newport, Wales – Manchester City Class of 92 charity football match. This started two-years ago where all the lads would meet up and play a game and have a night out as we generally won’t have seen each other since 1993. Two years ago we met up and I wasn’t sure how everyone would be, we all went through some really tough times playing football but we had a great time.
I spoke to one of the lads, Nevin, the night before and told him my news and he said do whatever I wanted to do, everyone will respect that. Obviously couldn’t play but I decided I would go as would take my mind off everything……it didn’t but it did help a little. The lads were fantastic with with all their support to me, and they still are to this day. Again, this is something I will never forget. I remember buying them all a beer and leaving thinking to myself would I see any of them again?
14th May
I remember this day as it was my aunt Marian’s birthday and looking back I can’t believe I asked her and uncle George to come with Maria and I for my consultation with Mr Bhatt in the Q E cancer ward. I sure know how to celebrate someone’s birthday!!
I waited a while before the door opened and Mr Bhatt called me and Maria in and he was a really great guy, straight to the point which I liked. He told me it is a 6 to 7 cm tumour and thought it was contained and that he could treat it successfully. 99.7% success rate so long as there is no spread. I had to have a few more checks which were uncomfortable but the operation date was confirmed for 27th May to remove my right kidney.
27th May 2015
D-DAY has arrived; 11 am, Edgbaston Priory.
I get changed into the operation gown and wait with Maria and her dad . It’s probably the first and only time I feel like a heavyweight boxer about to have the biggest fight of his life.
1:30 PM there is a knock on the door and its time. I take the long walk down to theatre and then part with Maria, I look back and she is in floods of tears with her dad. Bless her.
sean-scarAt 9 pm I wake up in intensive care with Maria holding my hand with that lovely smile on her face. She tells me that Dr Bhatt says operation has been a success! I then recall the scene from Saving Private Ryan where one of the soldiers gets shot and then starts to come round and then suddenly it hits you…..PAIN !! Where is the morphine?!! 5 days later I’m discharged from hospital and await my next scan in three-months time.
August 2015
There’s a nervous time ahead for the first scan result since my operation but, low-and-behold, it is ALL CLEAR with no spread!
2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
I have scans every 6 months and each time is a bit nerve racking but as time goes on the nerves ease a little. However when you have had cancer I don’t believe it ever leaves you mentally, but you can learn to cope better.
I write this blog (which I’ve never done one before!) is definitely not for a ‘well done, Sean’ pat on the back but, if just one person reads this this and takes some form of encouragement from my story, I would be delighted!
I’m happy for anyone to contact me if they wanted to chat?
The one thing I would say is that, by having cancer it makes you realise that there are so many GREAT people around who are so kind and thoughtful. Cancer really doesn’t choose who it targets, Maria summed it up when she said out of all our families combined she thought I would have been the last one to be diagnosed.
If you have this terrible illness you will go through many stages of feelings such as anger, why me, sean-harkindesolation, isolation, self pity, frustration with yourself, frustration perhaps at comments such as “be positive” when really you want to say back ‘tell me what’s so positive about having cancer!’ Forgive people, because they really don’t know what to say but are really trying to think the best for you.
Try to appreciate your family and friends and even strangers who are so nice!
A great big thank you to ALL my family and friends there would be too long a list and I don’t want to forget anyone!
I am so blessed to know you all.
Biggest Thank you though must go to my beautiful wife Maria who has helped me above and beyond. Kept me going during some very dark days and walked every step of the way. I am so lucky to have you as my wife and I love You so much. God definitely Blessed me by meeting you 😘
Thank you and I hope this isn’t too long a blog. Stay healthy and humble
Thank you to Sean for sharing his story, which will hopefully encourage other patients but also remind everyone if they see blood in their pee, to get checked out!

<a href="" target="_self">Malcolm Packer</a>

Malcolm Packer

Malcolm is Chief Executive Officer at Kidney Cancer UK and Kidney Cancer Scotland and has worked with the charity in various capacities for over 15 years.