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"The NHS saved me from cancer" Dave’s story of survival and a new lease of life

06 March 2018


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Dave Simpson from Flitwick beat cancer, thanks to life-saving treatment and care from NHS staff, and surprisingly, he says his life is better now than it was before his cancer diagnosis.

With a career in RAF air traffic control, Dave Simpson admits he didn’t give cancer or the NHS a second thought, until 2009 when he was faced with drastic surgery for cancer of the gullet and stomach and a survival chance of 8%.  Until then the only NHS treatment he’d needed were his tonsils removed and a knee operation.

Dave’s treatment involved removal of his oesophagus (the tube that takes food from the throat to the stomach), part of his stomach and complex surgical reconstruction that affects his ability to breathe, eat and sleep. He also had extensive chemotherapy – before and after surgery, which came with difficult symptoms including hair loss and bouts of hiccups which could last for an hour. 

More treatment was to come, and cancer recovery is not easy, as Dave explains:

“I had to have a further procedure to help my stomach to drain properly and prevent acid from damaging my throat and getting into my lungs.  This treatment was an amusing talking point with friends and colleagues because I was given Botox – but not to improve my looks! The Botox was to help my stomach to drain properly- no-one can see its effects and I still have wrinkles!”

“Since surgery, I can’t eat a full meal because I have a very small stomach now, I sleep propped up to prevent stomach acid damaging my throat, and my semi collapsed lung means I can get breathless.

But the cancer treatment was just the start of a huge positive change in my life. I wanted to give something back – not just to thank the NHS, but for others who live with cancer.”

I’ve taken part in films – about what it’s like to be a cancer patient going for their first CT scan, and educational videos for medical staff learning about cancer surgical procedures, and I also started to volunteer with Macmillan Cancer Support”.  

The partnership between Macmillan and the NHS has brought investment in cancer treatment centres and staff to support patients. Dave’s journey with Macmillan began when he met staff at the Primrose Unit at Bedford hospital, initially as a book reviewer, and continued once he trained as an events speaker. He campaigns and fundraises tirelessly for Macmillan, has been a members of the national committee on NICE guidance, and helped to set up the cancer patients’ group at Bedford Hospital.

Dave describes some truly humbling moments from his voluntary work: encountering a teenager who was inspired by him to stop smoking and give the money he saved to MacMillan; receiving a national award from MacMillan, and the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire’s Citizenship award. Last month Dave was invited to Buckingham Palace and met the Prince of Wales – in recognition of his work for cancer patients and MacMillan.

As if this was not enough, Dave became a Director of Healthwatch in Central Bedfordshire in 2013, a voluntary post which involves visits and reviews of local organisations which provide health or social care.   

Dave fully intends to keep going - over two million people now live with cancer, a figure that is set to rise, and his next project involves meeting clinicians about cancers affecting the base of the skull, to help develop quality surveillance. He has a spring in his step since undergoing very successful hip replacement surgery in November at Bedford Hospital and is pleased to have made an excellent recovery.

Dave sums it up by saying: “I continue to be in awe of NHS staff who provide care for patients, everyone from the consultant who made me feel I mattered; the nurses at Bedford Hospital’s Primrose Unit who are angels and remain cheerful and encouraging to every patient day in day out; even the film crew at The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford who make videos with patients to help train surgeons in cancer procedures.  The NHS undoubtedly saved my life - although I am told that my very determined positive attitude helps - but my treatment and experience of the NHS has made me into a better person.”

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