Empty Chairs - Andrew Weir's Story
Currently, thanks to advances in research and treatments, three out of every four people diagnosed with blood cancer in Northern Ireland survive. Andrew Weir from Belfast is one of those people.
Andrew, 56, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL) in 1976, over 40 years ago. He was only 15 years old.
It was a series of unnatural, sharp pains which led Andrew to visit his GP. His joints were aching, particularly his legs and knees, and he couldn’t figure out why. Initially the doctors thought he was simply attention-seeking – blood cancer wasn’t as easy to diagnose in those days – but then they realised something was really wrong. After multiple tests, it was confirmed that Andrew had blood cancer. He was barely a teenager at the time, but he was already aware of the impact it would have on his life.
Andrew said: “When I was told I had blood cancer, I was fully aware of what was ahead of me, and what it could mean. That said, nothing could have prepared me for how dreadful treatment was. The chemotherapy saved my life, but for two years I was in and out of hospital for a weekend every six weeks for my chemo. Back then, the anti-sickness drugs weren’t as good as they are now. I was sick every half an hour for two days.”
Throughout his treatment, Andrew’s life continued. He joined Shorts, Bombardier, aged 16 and qualified as an industrial chemist. But blood cancer didn’t go away until he received a life-changing bone marrow from his brother David, just before his 21st birthday.
He said: “I had one goal when I went in for my transplant – make it out by my 21st birthday. And I did. Since then, I have had to learn to live with side effects, but the experience changed my perspective on life for the better. When I was first diagnosed, I wondered if I would live to see 21. Once I made that, I realised I had a future ahead of me.”
Andrew’s transplant was the first successful bone marrow transplant in Northern Ireland. He also is the longest surviving bone marrow transplanted patient in Northern Ireland, and despite these incredible statistics, he credits the best thing to come out of his time in the hospital as meeting his wife, Myra.
After his transplant, Andrew went on to enjoy a long career with Shorts, Bombardier, retiring after 36 years in 2012. But one of his proudest achievements is his involvement with Transplant Sport Northern Ireland, of which he is now the Chairman. Since 2004, Andrew has competed in three World Transplant Games and twelve British Transplant Games , winning nearly forty medals in swimming, golf, ten bowling, amongst others. In fact, he has recently come back from the 2017 World Games, which took place in Malaga.
Now, Andrew is recently home from the British Transplant Games, where 39 people from Northern Ireland competed in a variety of sports, and this month he celebrates 30 years of marriage to Myra.
Remission is possible for people like Andrew thanks to research done by scientists, like those funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI right here in Belfast. They are working hard to develop new and more effective treatments, which mean that a diagnosis is not a death sentence anymore. Andrew is a survivor.
We’d love it if you shared Andrew’s story and spread the word. Together, we can help reduce the number of empty chairs created by blood cancer.