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Inspiring story from former patient and long time supporter of the CCHF

Nigel received treatment in SMH and Oxford 29 years ago before the present unit was built and, along with other young patients, raised money early in the drive to build the CCHU. He recovered fully, built a new life in Australia with a beautiful wife and two sons, but has always, along with his parents,  remained supportive of the CCHF. He has spent this summer locally supporting his cricket playing son. Read his inspiring story below:

Friday October 13th 1989, the day my life changed forever. I had just turned 24 and was engaged to be married the following July. Fit and healthy I had my whole life before me. So what was I doing lying in a hospital bed on ward 1X surrounded by student doctors? You have Non Hodgkins Lymphoma one of the doctors said, any questions? I was in shock, lost for words. I have cancer? Is this a joke? Surely some mistake. I’ve never smoked, I don’t drink, I run marathons you must have got it wrong. But ‘no’ this is very real and hits me like a freight train.

Within hours I’m in an ambulance bound for The Churchill Hospital in Oxford. A biopsy, lumber puncture, MRI, CT Scan more blood tests than I care to remember. Oncologists, consultants, doctors, nurses. Its well advanced, they need to start the chemo immediately to give me a fighting chance. It’s going to be a brutal regime.It needs to be. My chances of getting through are less than 50%. I don’t like those odds. I’m petrified. This wasn’t part of my plan. Life sucks. That classic question, Why me?

Rigged up to a drip I watch in silence as the first dose of chemo slips silently down a vein in my arm. For 5 days I lay there. Monitors beeping, chemo and more chemo pumped into me. Strangers around my bed but alone with my thoughts and my fears. I can’t sleep. I can’t concentrate on anything. I’m in denial. This cannot be happening to me. Am I going to die?

Two weeks elapse and I’m freed. The world seems different now. The light is brighter. Every thing sounds louder, feels bigger more scary. I’m vulnerable for the first time in my adult life. Weirdly I want to be back in hospital where I’m cared for and safe. Don’t worry they said, you’ll be back soon once your white blood cells have all been zapped. I console myself that if the chemo is doing that to the good cells the cancer will be getting the same. I’m weak. I struggle to walk very far. No energy and tired. This is my life now and it sucks.

Four days after release I’m back at Ward 1X minus all my white blood cells fighting some infection. Now they are pumping me with antibiotics and fluids. Worst still I wake up with clumps of hair on my pillow. Shave it off now I demand I want it gone. Within an hour I’m bald. Who is that sick guy looking back at me in the mirror? I’m fighting for my life not sure it’s a battle I can win. Angry with the world and those around me who are trying to help. Angry with myself for getting sick. Angry with everything and everyone I’m not great to be around.

And so it continues week after week. More time in hospital than at home. Midnight dashes to the hospital. Hundreds of tests and more blood than from a horror movie. And more chemo. If it doesn’t get in the vein right it burns like hell. But I figure thats good. It must be evil stuff to do that. My body is ravaged. The chemo is smashing me and hopefully the cancer too.

By January I’m ready for radiotherapy. Daily trips from Aylesbury to Oxford. I sleep a lot. I feel quite sick. After a while it burns and hurts to swallow. But scans show its working. Regular MRI’s show positive images. They inject me with a radioactive isotope which attaches to any cancer cells but none show up.

Finally no more treatment. I’m in remission but trips to Oxford continue indefinitely bloods, tests, MRI’s. They are on top of it but do not want it to return. These guys are amazing. They’ve saved my life. Thanking them is not enough.

My guardian angel June Wilson wants to raise money to build a dedicated cancer unit at Stoke. How can I help? We form the charity Cancer Care and Haematology Fund. I lead a young committee of cancer patients who all want to put something back. We attend events and organise fund raising and the money comes pouring it. It’s brilliant, rewarding, empowering. As patients ourselves we all know what it’s like living with cancer and we want to make a difference for those who follow us on this journey.

Seeing the unit finally open in 2001 there is a huge sense of pride and admiration for the caring, dedicated, compassionate people who made it happen.

I’m 52 now with a gorgeous wife who was with me on start of the journey. I have two strapping boys whom I was told I may never have. I live on the other side of the world in Perth but the unit and its amazing staff are always in my heart and my thoughts. I return regularly and the unit is an oasis. An Island of calm, caring and compassion in the storm that is cancer. It provides hope, support and belief.

I love this place and these people. Without them I wouldn’t be here to love at all.

Written by on 07.08.18

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