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Dad devastated after struggling to swallow was sign of silent killer

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A family was left “shocked” after a beloved dad was diagnosed with a deadly cancer. Seamus Meenagh, 54, discovered he had stage four oesophageal cancer in May this year after developing a hoarse voice and difficulty swallowing.

As reported by the Irish Star, Seamus had suffered from acid reflux his whole life and was being monitored in case it turned into cancer. But it was a “big shock” to his wife and daughters when the disease was confirmed.

Originally from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, Seamus moved to Philadelphia in the US in the 1980s to escape The Troubles. He has since married his wife Kerri and had two daughters Aisling, 21, and Saorla, 19.

Kerri, 49, told : “Seamus’ acid reflux has been terrible his entire life. He was seeing a GI specialist or gastroenterologist for this, was on medication, and was having regular endoscopies and tests to make sure the reflex didn’t turn into cancer so it was a big shock when he got diagnosed.

“We thought, ‘This can’t be cancer’. He hasn’t seemed sick until recently.”

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The family has been told there is no cure for his disease, which has now spread to his spine. Seamus has now given up work as a contractor after taking a “turn for the worst”.

“He’s stubborn and has been working throughout his illness,” Kerri said.

“He’s one of the most sought-after historical plasterers in Philadelphia and recently plastered Carpenter’s Hall, a key meeting place in the early history of the US, with his chemo bag on.

“He’s self-employed so if he’s not working, he’s not earning.”

Finances are now a concern for the family due to his illness.

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Nurse practitioner Kerri continued: “Seamus is eligible for disability benefits but that will take a while to come through.

“I have medical insurance through my work so that will go towards paying our kids’ college and any additional care Seamus might need.

“It’s a safety net to ensure premiums can be paid and we can survive if I need to stop work but costs are always a worry.”

Seamus’ illness is now too advanced for surgery.

Instead, he is currently receiving chemotherapy, radiation to the spine. He will also receive immunotherapy to treat the disease.

The treatment is gruelling, though, and Seamus has been left on a liquid diet and in a lot of pain.

Kerri added: “We don’t know if it’s the cancer or the treatment that’s causing him nausea and fatigue.

“Seamus’ sister died of lung cancer at the age of 49 but apart from that, he and his family have remained healthy.”

To support Seamus and his family through the ordeal, a fundraiser has been set up which has raised more than $41,000 (around £32,394).

Kerri added: “Seamus is very popular in the Irish community in Philadelphia. He gave up alcohol years ago and is known as the person to go to if you need to get sober. He’s not a professional but he’s good at helping people.

“I think that’s why so many people now want to help him in his hour of need. Our daughters have been dealing well with Seamus’ diagnosis but they’re home for Christmas. It’s going to be different when they go back to college.

“Seamus is one of 10 children and is the only one left in Philadelphia.

“We were hoping to go back to Ireland in May but I’m not sure if that will happen now. Seamus is maintaining a very positive attitude so we will play it by ear.”

According to the NHS, symptoms of oesophageal cancer include:

  • Having problems swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • Symptoms of indigestion, such as burping a lot
  • A cough that is not getting better
  • A hoarse voice
  • Loss of appetite or losing weight without trying to
  • Feeling tired or having no energy
  • Pain in your throat or the middle of your chest, especially when swallowing
  • Black poo or coughing up blood (although these are uncommon).

If you experience any unexplained symptoms you should speak to your GP.

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