A SENSE of gratitude modestly exudes from Liam Cuddihy. Kitted out in his brilliantly orange Run For Life tee-shirt over a cuppa at the WIT Arena 11 days prior to the annual 10K fundraiser, the Belvedere Drive native stoically spoke about living with and recovering from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
One can’t help concluding that Liam’s calm demeanour, combined with his enthusiasm for distance running and love of outdoor life, has helped him through the roughest patch of his life.
And when we later chat briefly in the glorious Bloom Garden alongside the Solas Centre, that stoicism and giving nature of the Tramore resident evidently reigns.
A man of great integrity, clearly surrounded by good people (including Molly’s on the Prom which is currently sporting a Run For Life collection bucket), the Bausch + Lomb staffer’s ‘tao’ is worth tapping into.
“Aiming for and getting ready for the run (for life) is a big thing for me,” said Liam, a veteran of eight marathons with a personal best time of just under three hours and 15 minutes (Dublin, 2003).
“The Run For Life has given me a physical fitness target, to get back to running that distance, finish it and achieve it. Now, in saying that, I didn’t let my physical fitness go while I was going through the treatment. I had a good mate of mine, Richard, who’s also living out in Tramore, and we’d meet a couple of times of week and most days through the treatment, I kept up walking.”
Liam, married to Eileen since 1999 and living in Tramore since ’98, continued: “I should give a shout out to the DCU boys as well, they’ve a MedEx Wellness programme they run here in WIT as well and that was a huge help. Years ago, the thinking was that if you had cancer, that you sat down, that you didn’t do anything physical and you took it easy but the research now is directed at getting people exercising before any treatment, exercising as best you can while you’re going through it and getting back into it once the treatment is finished. Whatever fitness level you’re at, well it’s going to drop because of cancer and then the treatment but the programmes available now are geared at getting you back to that original level more quickly. Getting out and doing what you can is what it’s all about. I found that a great help.”
Some in-house knowledge certainly played its part too, Liam told me. “Eileen is a theatre nurse at UHW. Being used to dealing with people with different conditions and all the research that goes with that work was very beneficial,” he explained.
“She was very good when it came to explaining how the medications worked and what they meant for me. To have Eileen’s help and advice at home every day, on top of the support she’s given and still does of course, was massive for me. Not everyone is in that position when it comes to cancer. When I went for the two bouts of treatment in the hospital, I was in for a week each time because of the type of chemotherapy it was. There was a lot of fluid involved, so I’d to take in a lot of fluid, then get the chemotherapy and then flush it back out. But the nurse that was there (during the treatment) actually trained with my wife. And my own knowledge helped too. I’ve a degree in Exercise and Health from WIT so there were a few things inside the front door which were in my favour. It all helped.”
In June of last year, a dip in Liam’s running performance was somewhat responsible for his making a doctor’s appointment and ultimately led to his being diagnosed.
“I’d been feeling a bit tired (lymph nodes had been detected the previous winter) and I didn’t really know what was going on and, you might find this funny, but it was partly due to the running that I ended up going to the doctor. My run times were starting to slip back and I couldn’t think of any reason as to why that was. Then I ended up going home from work one day because I wasn’t feeling well and that’s when it all really kicked off. I got sent into hospital for two days, had a battery of tests and two weeks later we got called back by the consultant, Brian Hennessy in Whitfield, and the results showed that I had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and it had been detected very early. And it was a bloody big shock. But of the types to get, it’s one that has one of the better outcomes. Brian told me I’d have to go through chemo. I spoke to him on a Thursday, I started medication on the Friday and the following Tuesday and Thursday I had my first bouts of chemo. That went on for eight months. I had six treatments of one type of chemo and then two treatments of another kind and that finished in February. I didn’t have the sickness or the vomiting, I’m grateful I was spared that, but there was a lot of fatigue and tiredness. It does take it out of you. I won’t say I got the all-clear but things are after going well and I’m on what’s known as a ‘maintenance phase’ now where I’m still under the watchful eye, so to speak.”
Liam wasn’t a stranger to the Solas Centre, having partaken in previous editions of the Run For Life (“I walked it last year with one of the lads from the Men’s Group there”) and he availed of their services “very early on” in the process.
“The Centre was mentioned to me by one of the nurses in Whitfield too so I went out, had an initial meeting with one of the counsellors there and she introduced me to the Men’s Group and that’s been very good for me,” said Liam, son of Marie and Willie and brother to Brian.
“It’s a very supportive environment, you’ve got a group of men there with different types of cancer and when you’re going through treatment, that group gives you a place you can talk freely about it. And there’s times when we don’t mention cancer at all. It’s not a sombre group – it’s the complete opposite. We look after the garden project out there too, the Bloom Garden and the Wildflower Garden, and that’s been a brilliant outlet for us, especially during the summer. We love it out there.”
Father to Muireann, Liam Óg and Mícheál, all keen athletes in their own right, Liam extols the virtues of exercise to everyone, regardless of age or levels of physical prowess.
And as part of the Solas Centre’s ‘10 for 10’ training group (all of whom are in recovery from cancer), who have been put through their respective paces by Shane Dineen at the WIT Arena, Liam has found another productive outlet for his love of running.
“It’s the perfect example of how exercise should be promoted. Running isn’t all about being competitive, making times and running faster than you did yesterday. The Run For Life and the Park Runs are all about participating, whether you’re walking or running. The concept is to get people literally moving, to sow a seed about changing your routine, to train one day a week and build from there. You don’t have to split yourself in two with training. I’m talking to you now, I’m after coming out the other end of cancer and I’ve been training all my life between martial arts and running. But it’s been understood for quite some time now that exercising reduces your chances of getting serious illness. All the training I did may well have helped me cope with the worst elements of it and I think it’s stood to me. Running is great for the mind and the body. It’s worth giving it a go.”
Postscript: Liam covered the Run For Life course in some comfort, crossing the finish line in a time of 54 minutes and eight seconds.