"THE MEMORY OF JESUS IS BOTH SACRED AND SUBVERSIVE"
Friday, 26 May 2017
FATHER TED'S SON AND CANNIBAS
Dermot Morgan’s son used cannabis to cope with cancer
Ben Morgan discusses the moment he was told he had the disease and how he is seeing the funny side, writes Mark O’Regan
BEN Morgan slowly rubs his finger along his neck, and points to the part of it where he first discovered a cluster of small “lumps”.
The aspiring comedian and Trinity College law student — the son of Father Ted actor Dermot Morgan — recalls without emotion the fateful cancer diagnosis that would change his life.
The first inkling that something was wrong came on New Year’s Day.
“I usually have a really good immune system but I kept getting sick. I was getting really bad night sweats and had to change my sheets on a daily basis,” he says.
However, after becoming ill for a third time in quick succession, he discovered those lumps in his neck.
One of his lymph nodes was removed and an early prognosis suggested he may be suffering from a form of glandular fever.
However, Ben’s mother insisted further medical examination was necessary.
His voice stays deliberately calm as he recalls the first indication that he had something serious.
“They went through the various things it might be, and that’s when they said, God forbid, it might be cancer.
“But I pushed that out of my head quite fast. What are the odds of a 22 year old getting this disease?”
Eventually he was delivered the stark news that, despite his young years, he had Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Seared in his memory was the moment the “c-word” was first uttered by his doctor. He said nothing could have prepared him for that moment.
“I broke down in tears. I was thinking: ‘Oh f***, oh f ***, oh f ***’,” Ben says.
“I went into panic mode. I was kicking the hospital bed to bits. It was quite bad.”
The anguish of those times is still all too vivid — in particular, he remembers the cloud of uncertainty which enveloped him. It was followed by feelings of complete helplessness.
But Ben then decided to fight a fierce battle to regain his composure, which would allow him to use all his resources to fight the disease.
“When they tell you what you have, and you finally get the prognosis, at least you know where you stand,” Ben says. “In a way, you don’t feel as powerless.”
And then perhaps his family lineage provided its own unique sense of comfort.
His late father, with the passage of time, has become one of the most loved of Irish comedians, mainly due to the enduring popularity of the Father Ted series.
So Ben, rather than feeling sorry for himself, decided to try to find some humour in his situation.
He started a blog — Stage Four Chancer — which would take a light-hearted view of his condition.
Littered with swear words and wisecracks, it is also a brutally honest, no-holds-barred account of his illness.
Ben says this determination to look on the bright side as much as possible was central to his determination to confront his cancer “head on”.
“You need something to take the sting out of reality,” he says solemnly.
A joke-filled approach would bring its own consolation and, in a sense, would ensure this illness would not dominate him.
But he stresses he did not want to come across as in any way “flippant” about such a serious disease, while stating he “won the lottery of cancers”.
“I am in full remission,” he says, with an obvious sense of deep gratitude. “I just decided if I could make fun of it, then it would not be so serious. If I had some control then it hadn’t beaten me.
“It’s kind of like saying, ‘F*** cancer, you’re not going to get me’. As a young man, you think if there is a God he definitely f ****** hates me. Why would he give me cancer?
“But when I decided to accept my situation it was amazing the amount of mental strength I had — I didn’t know it was there.
“I used to worry about my entire life and what would happen. I have really bad anxiety and am obsessive compulsive.
“But when I was diagnosed with the disease I realised I had the tools to deal with it.
“It’s just that I never had to use them before. I also received lots of support from friends and family, which was a big help.”
His experience with the most dreaded of diseases has also left him with strong views on the importance of medicinal cannabis.
Ben credits the drug with alleviating some of the more serious side effects of his chemotherapy treatment, and with generally helping him through his recovery.
He is now an unabashed proponent of its use as a medicinal drug, and insists it has both physical and mental benefits.
“I cannot describe how much we really, really need it in Ireland at the moment,” he says.
Meanwhile, despite all the tribulations in what has been a turbulent 2016, Ben’s dream of making his mark as a comedian is as alive and as fervent as ever.
“I’ve done more gigs this year than I’ve done any other year — and I’m writing a lot more new material,” he says.
He feels that, in a sense, his cancer has deepened his concept of humour and the mysteries of what makes people laugh.
“I’ve a lot more material to work with now,” he admits.
Ben remains patently proud of the achievements of his famous father, but is determined to carve his own niche in the often wayward world of comedy.
“My dad died when I was aged three or four. I admire him so much,’’ he says.
Ben has confronted head on the most dreaded disease of them all. But, as of now, making people laugh remains his life’s ambition.
Clearly speaking from the heart, he says simply: “All I know is it’s what I really want to do.”
‘If there is a God, he hates me... why would he give me cancer?’
PAT SAYS: Stories like this young man's battle for his life put the comfortable self serving Maynooth crowd to shame. While they are squabbling in the cloisters there are people like Ben Morgan are the heroes of daily life. Who can blame him for turning to cannabis to help him in the darkest times? In fact I think that there is a serious case to be made for medicinal cannabis. Although I have seen cannabis trigger psychosis in some young people. It is also understandable that he questions a God who allows a 22 year old and others to get cancer. I bet you the Maynooth crowd would have petty answers to his struggle with life and faith.