Alan McQuillan: I am fighting terminal cancer with family, friends and humour

Former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan has gone public to say that he is fighting a terminal battle with prostate cancer.

By Philip Bradfield
Wednesday, 26th January 2022, 6:47 pm
Updated Friday, 28th January 2022, 10:48 am

“I am terminally ill,” the married-father-of two told the News Letter yesterday after breaking the news on the Stephen Nolan Show.

“Basically it is very simple. I had been red flagged for some time and they were monitoring me but it didn’t seem too serious until November when they discovered that I have an uncommon form prostate cancer.

“And it has metastasized so it has already started to spread and they can try and contain it but it will kill me eventually. There is no cure for this - it is a terminal diagnosis.”

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Former ACC Alan McQuillan has surived many bomb and gun attacks but must now face a battle with cancer.

He has been told he has probably between one and three years to live but that depends on how this particular variant responds to treatment.

“The consultant has been quite clear that it is a nasty little version of it and that it is probably unlikely I will be here in three years,” he said.

“It is what it is and I have rationalised it to myself. I understand where I am.”

He has a great advantage over his father, he says.

“He literally bent down to put the laundry in the washing machine and went straight to the ground with a heart attack and never got up. I have got the advantage of having prior notice which is a huge advantage in terms of managing your death and helping family get through this as well. I am very glad I have that time.

“I have made no secret of it. I have phoned all my close friends and told them. I have already had huge support from some of my closest friends. And of course I have got a lot of friends who have been through similar things themselves.”

The situation is not “absolutely hopeless” because he has one friend in England with quite a similar diagnosis who is still alive after eight years, but that depended on his cancer type. The statistics show that he is in a tiny 3% minority of those suffering from the aggressive variant.

“I have got to be realistic - I think I probably won’t be [in that category].”

There is a standard hormone treatment to slow down the cancer and then a variety of drugs. Radiotherapy can also be used to reduce pain as palliative care if it infects the bones, he says.

“There is no pain at present - I feel perfectly normal.”

But it is uncertain how it will progress. It can infect the bones which can lead to fractures and pain and blood disorder which can affect the heart. Or it can spread to different organs and set up secondary cancers. He is drawing strength in various ways.

“I have an extremely strong family who are incredibly supportive. I have some absolutely brilliant friends who are supporting me, but above all I think humour is the best thing. The reality is we are all dying, we are just dying at different rates. I am not religious - quite the reverse - and I think this is all part of the great tapestry of life and this is my turn I’m afraid.”

He is married with two adult children - one is a lawyer and the other runs his own business.

His prevention advice to others is not to be afraid of prostate cancer.

Most people who have it die with prostate cancer and not because of it. But if you see any signs go to your GP and get it checked. The symptoms are erectile dysfunction and problems with the waterworks - going to the toilet much more often, or difficulty going to the toilet. But go early because if it is got early it can be treated.”

He is considering writing a book and has started to draft something out. He will not place anyone at risk in what he writes he says, but he does have one concern he wants to address.

“I think there are issues about the history here. We do need different versions of history told and at the moment I don’t think that is happening. There are a number of people publishing books, I have read a lot of them, and I thought, ‘No that is not right’. So I might throw my own tuppence into the mix.

“The number once piece of nonsense that is accepted,” he says, “Is the issue of collusion and the absolute perversion of the definition of collusion.The second one is the alleged collusion of security forces with republicans.” 

He has survived a long list of close brushes with bombings and shootings which he may include. The first time anyone tried to kill him was when he was only 15 or 16.

He was walking back from school on Alliance Road at the Ardoyne on the Protestant side.

There was a crowd of young girls skipping in the street when he saw a man on the peace line stopping.

“Then I just saw these flashes and then the next thing was the girls started to scatter and then I heard the rattle of the machine gun and the rounds whistling over my head.That was a simple sectarian murder attempt against a group of children on the Ardoyne.”

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