Hugh Breslin pictured with his wife Brid, daughters Roisin and Sinead and son John. Picture: Jmac.ie
It’s almost three years since I did a TV interview with Big Hugh Breslin at his home.
At the time I was genuinely moved and impressed by his positive outlook and steely fortitude. If I ever needed a definition of focus, I encountered it that day.
Three years on, I wanted to find out if the big man, who was given nine months to live in 2004 with malignant multiple myeloma, was hanging in, hanging on and hanging tough.
Well, of those three choices, the third is most applicable as Hugh is certainly the toughest of the tough. “If I live another five years, Frank, the doctors say I can be declared ‘cured’! I intend to.”
The view from Ardlougher is majestic . . . the panoramic sweep includes Slieve Liag, across to Maghery and past Glenties. In the distance are Arranmore Island and Errigal Mountain and I am struck how such a beautiful sight in the early morning must surely lend itself to a determination by any beholder to witness many such dawns in the future.
He has always been an Ardlougher man. Born in 1957 to John and Josephine Breslin, he has one brother and a sister. At age 14, he was hit by a car and declared dead three times. Taken to the Sheil Hospital in Ballyshannon in a coma, he recalls watching his own body being wheeled into a ward.
Such experiences would add to his lifetime belief that there is something beyond our understanding which makes self-belief crucial. “You must believe in yourself” is a mantra he adheres to.
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After that he was transferred to Dublin where he was treated for a few months before coming home. “My jaw was very badly smashed and that put an end to my boxing career.” A two handed boxer, he was part of a club in Glenties under the tutelage of Harry Reid. To add to the family trauma, his father died of stomach cancer at the age of 46, and he took over the farm. To supplement his income, he began working in Killybegs at the age of 17, and worked there for some 37 years in the boatyard, as well as in fishing and the fishmeal factory.
“I was strong and fit, and that still stands to me. I got the strength from my mother.”
Hugh is indeed big . . . he towers over my six foot four imperiously. As we emerge from the Corner House after a coffee, a few of the locals are having a good natured laugh.
“Cut down to size at last, Frankie,” is one such retort. Despite his ongoing illness, Hugh also took up Kung-Fu and is an avid reader of the philosophy of Bruce Lee. To quote a Carrigart man many years ago, about another big local: “You’d be as well being mannerly in advance!” That being said, he is a gentle, thoughtful being and great company, married to Brid Cunningham from Kilcar, and a doting father to Sinead, Roisin and John.
He recalls the fateful day in 2004. “I always had stomach problems but when I was filling in the grave at Pat Lough’s funeral, my ribs broke!” Subsequently, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. Because of extensive bone lesions, as well as shattered ribs, his shoulder and arms broke as well. He had to give up work and having tried conventional drugs initially, he had a relapse after 18 months.
By 2007, he was advised that it was not curable and a bone marrow transplant was suggested. Hugh thought about it for some time but refused it and having read a book by Doctor Patrick Quillen, he decided to try an alternative.
It recommended mixing Vitamin C and B12 and with the addition of K2 and Lecithin, which he takes a few times a day, his blood has been normal since 2008 and his paraproteins went back to zero.
Although he insists that there is no one panacea and is eternally grateful for the wonderful help from Dr. Morell and her medical team in Letterkenny, he firmly believes that a healthy lifestyle and strong self-belief is crucial in all our lives. As I drove north later, I happened to put on my Jimmy Dean CD which featured this smash hit…
“Every mornin' at the mine you could see him arrive
He stood six-foot-six and weighed two-forty-five
Kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip
And everybody knew ya didn't give no lip to big John”
Well, Big Hugh is over 14 stone and as lean as a whippet. Not giving lip does not apply to this most gentle of survivors who is a real beacon of inspiration for so many others. Although he still suffers pain from the lesions, he doesn’t take painkillers; bar the occasional gritting of his teeth, he soldiers on.
Long may he enjoy the view from Ardlougher!