Emmet Burns playing for UCD.
emmet burns

UCD prop battling Hodgkin Lymphoma raises over €35,000 with '10 tonne challenge'

Emmet Burns, who was diagnosed with the cancer in May, will lift a total of 10 tonnes this Bank Holiday Monday.

THE FIRST TIME Emmet Burns heard about Hodgkin Lymphoma was when a doctor was explaining to him that this cancer of the lymphatic system was the reason for the all sleepless nights, extreme fatigue and severe skin irritation he had been feeling for the past few months.

Burns – who tomorrow will take part in a ’10 tonne challenge’ to raise funds and awareness of the cancer – was 23 when diagnosed, and did the one thing you’re not meant to do after receiving such news. 

“The first thing you do is you Google it, which is probably the last thing you should do,” Burns says.

“I had been playing sport at a reasonably high level since school, and I go to the gym a good bit and look after my body. So to get that news… You never think it could actually happen to you at such a young age.”

That was last May, the diagnosis coming four months after the UCD prop first noticed something wasn’t right.

The initial warning signs was itching on Burns’ skin which kept him up at night, the various ointments and skin creams prescribed by his GP doing little to soothe the irritation. He started waking up a heavy sweat, and noticed he was dropping weight. He put the new-found fatigue he was suffering from down to the lack of sleep.

In March he then went under the knife to repair the AC joint in his shoulder. Shortly after he noticed a lump on his collarbone, and a pain which felt like a pulled muscle. The physio in UCD felt a swollen gland and sent him back to his GP, who sent him for an X-ray. At this point, Burns thought he maybe had some sort of infection.

The next day his phone rang. Burns was told to go to A&E as soon as possible. He spent a full week in hospital getting various tests done, with those tests eventually pointing to lymphoma.

On the Friday, the last day I was in hospital, I had to get the biopsy to determine what kind of lymphoma it was so they took a sample of lymph nodes from just above my collarbone. I got the results of that within a week and it came back as Hodgkin Lymphoma. 

“I started chemotherapy a week later, so it all happened very quickly.”

Hodgkin Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer which affects white blood cells called lymphocytes, and is most common in young adults and people over the age of 75. 

Over the summer months, Burns approached his diagnosis with the same determination he has applied to rugby.

“I really enjoyed playing rugby and thought that I was good enough to try make a career out of it,” he continues. “I was probably unlucky with injuries coming out of school, I didn’t get the opportunities I thought I deserved, and once you leave school and are playing in the AIL, it’s tough to get back into the Leinster scene especially.”

While studying for a Masters in Food Business Strategy last year, he put some feelers out further afield.

“I decided to try find a club in the UK who would be interested in taking me on in the Championship or the Premiership. I had a contact over there who specialises in Irish players who hadn’t made it in the provinces. I talked to him in February and then I was finishing out my Masters and hoping to go over in the summer to see if I get could get lucky. Then in May I got the diagnosis so that kind of put all of that on pause, which was another disappointment.”

His UCD coaches and teammates were among the first people Burns spoke to following his diagnosis. Their support has been a huge help, and Burns still attends games when his weakened immune system allows him to.

“Not playing rugby has been huge, because I’ve been playing since I was five or six,” he says.

“The treatment damages your immune system, so it has been tough to meet up with friends, but I was lucky that it was during the summer so we could spend a lot of time outside. 

“You just try to make the most of the days you feel up for it.”  

With his rugby career on hold, Burns has tried to keep active throughout his chemotherapy, the opportunities to exercise helping him keep positive during the more challenge stages of his treatment. The complications of Covid meant that Burns had to attend most of his early consultations and treatment sessions without any visitors or support.

I tried my best to keep going to the gym and I was lucky enough that my body reacted well to the chemo, I knew when I was able to go the gym and when I needed to take it easy. It kind of brought normality to my life, and some sort of structure to get through the day.”

It also helped him come up with the Ten Tonne Challenge, which will take place tomorrow, 25 October. The idea was simple. In a bid to raise money for the Irish Cancer Society and St Vincent’s Hospital, Burns, who turned 24 last month, will lift ten tonnes via 50 squats, 25 deadlifts and 25 bench presses of 100kg each.

You can watch Burns complete the challenge via Zoom, and Burns hopes others will join in using whatever exercises and weight they feel comfortable with. 

At the very start of the treatment I knew I wanted to do some sort of charity event to help raise money, but also to spread awareness of the whole cancer, because I had never heard of it before and it’s one of the most prominent cancers in people under the age of 30. I also thought it might be a good thing for everyone to get involved in in whatever way they want, with whatever exercises they want to do.”

The initial fundraising target was set at €5,000. Within 20 minutes of the page going live, donations had hit €2,000. At the time of writing, the total has just ticked over the €35,000 mark.

Burns has received support from the likes of Garry Ringrose, Cian Healy, Mike Ross and Jordi Murphy, with various rugby prizes now up for grabs for anyone who donates €50 or more.

The date of the challenge was set to mark what Burns hopes will be his final round of chemotherapy later in the week, and the front-rower is already looking forward to better days on the horizon.

“My plan is to up my training once I finish the chemo, get back running, and then build it up and integrate myself back into the team training, get into contact training in the New Year and hopefully by February I can maybe start to get some game time, and hopefully get another chance to play somewhere professionally.” 

Emmet’s Ten Tonne Challenge takes place on Monday, 25 October. You can donate here:, and find more updates and information at

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