NI cancer survival rates much improved: report

Andrew Weir was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1976
Andrew Weir was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1976

Northern Ireland’s longest surviving recipient of a bone marrow transplant has appealed for more people to sign up as potential organ and tissue donors.

Andrew Weir, 55, spoke out as Macmillan Cancer Support revealed that more than 170,000 people are alive despite being diagnosed with cancer more than 25 years ago.

Mr Weir was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1976 when he was just 15.

He underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy but had to have a bone marrow transplant, six years later, in 1982.

He said at the time he was not informed that the treatment could affect his fertility and lead to heart problems.

Since then he has had three hip replacements, had two cataracts removed and suffered a heart attack in 2009.

“When I was initially admitted to hospital at the age of 15 and diagnosed with leukaemia, doctors told my parents that I might not make it through the weekend,” he said.

After being diagnosed with thyroid cancer during an annual check up at Belfast City Hospital in 2013, Andrew says he has seen “so many changes” in the treatment.

“When I was lying in my hospital bed back in the 70s I could look out the window and watch the City Hospital tower block being built,” he said.

“And it’s not just the facilities and treatments that have improved. Attitudes have changed.

“When I was a teenager and sitting in a waiting room with bald men and ladies wearing scarves, nobody would speak. It really was ‘God’s waiting room’. No one spoke. No one smiled. I used to escape and wait on the stairs.

”I remember they gave me a wig. More like a bit of carpet. I did actually wear it in the street, just to stop other teenagers and school kids from pointing and staring.

“There was a stigma attached to cancer and no one wanted to talk about it.”

The chairman of Transplant Sport NI, who competes in swimming and golf, said: “I’m one of the lucky ones.

“Thanks to a bone marrow transplant in the 80s, I’m still here today. But there are so many people waiting for transplants. We need more people to sign up as potential organ and tissue donors to save more lives.”

The new report from Macmillan Cancer Support – ‘Cancer: Then and Now’ – reveals people on average are twice as likely to survive at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer than they were at the start of the 1970s.