Fred’s story – “Cancer won’t stop me living my life”

Fred McIlmoyle, 81, has always loved gardening. At his home in Limavady, Northern Ireland, where he lives with his wife Pat, the back garden is a green haven. It’s his place to come and relax and forget about his troubles.

Fred’s had a lot of ups and downs in his life, but his garden has always been a constant. During difficult times, it’s provided solace for him, a place into which he can channel his energy.

Life took a different perspective for Fred when five years ago, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

The doctors gave me six months

Fred worked at a power station in the 1960s, replacing tubes and boilers. He took all the precautions he thought were necessary, wearing a mask to protect himself from breathing in any harmful chemicals. However, a mask was not enough to protect him from asbestos and this exposure resulted in him being diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2018.

“I thought it was a heart problem at first,” Fred says. “I struggled with my breathing and a cough and went to the hospital to get it checked out. I had to go for a biopsy and they found fluid on my lung. I was diagnosed with mesothelioma at Easter and the doctors told me October – they gave me a time.”

Fred ended up undergoing two rounds of chemotherapy, which made him very sick, but he began to regain his strength after a year of immunotherapy and is now stable, needing an x-ray every three months to ensure that he is keeping on top of things.

“The doctors have been fantastic and I can never thank them enough. I’ve had five or six years since my diagnosis and I don’t know how long I’ll last but I keep feeling great and I take every day as it comes.”

You must keep your head up

Mesothelioma was no match for Fred’s passion for gardening and has not stopped him from working on his garden. From laying paths to building walls, Fred has even added a summer house and a pond to create a peaceful outdoor sanctuary.

“I just get so much enjoyment from being in the garden and spend a lot of time outside – I’ve got seats so I can come outside and watch the birds and feed them. I love potting too and have so many plants and flowers. Being in the garden lets me get outside and forget about everything.”

Fred’s wife, Pat, also shares his love of gardening and the couple makes plans for what they want to do next.

“I couldn’t have worked this garden if it wasn’t for Pat,” Fred says. “I always go to lie in bed at night and tell her we’ll make rooms around the garden and make different spaces. I don’t think it’s nice to see the whole garden when I go out there and stand around so I’ve made different areas that Pat and I can enjoy.”

Inspiring others with cancer

Michelle Doherty is Fred’s Lung Specialist Nurse at the North West Cancer Centre. In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster, she hailed him an inspiration and hoped his story and positive attitude would bring hope to anyone else with cancer.

“I would just love to put him on a stage and show him off to everybody,” she said. “It’s such an uplifting thing to do, to go out and look around your garden because it’s different every day. Should it only be planting three bulbs in the autumn and you look in the springtime to see if they’ve come through. It gives you hope. It just lifts your spirits.”

Fred’s beloved garden helps him to keep fighting and his spirit is clear to see despite having incurable lung cancer. His advice to anyone with cancer is to keep fighting it and push forward.

“I would say to anybody who’s diagnosed with cancer, God forbid, they must keep their head up and just think of the day and then you get to tomorrow and keep going. If you like gardening, keep gardening. If you do gardening, you’ll forget your cancer.

“You keep fighting it and you get great help from the doctors. I thank God for every morning I get up so I can walk out to the garden again.”

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Disclaimer: These stories are based on personal experience and do not constitute medical advice. We recommend you speak to your healthcare team or phone our support line if you have any questions relating to your care or treatment.