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03 February 2017
I was diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer in June 2009. I had carried the symptoms for 15 months before visiting my GP. I was unable to swallow, lost weight; I thought it was because of my dieting. I went to the GP in March 2009 thinking I had a hiatus hernia, the GP may have been influenced by my remarks, as I was referred for an endoscopy, but not on a ‘2-week wait’ which would have been the case if cancer was suspected.
On the 2nd June, I had my first hospital appointment for the endoscopy. I was slightly nervous as anyone would be but cancer never crossed my mind. I had no idea what was wrong with me. In the recovery room, the gastroenterologist said: “there is something there.”
Nervously I asked, “what are we talking about?” The doctor looked straight at me, eyes focused and said: ”That which people don’t want to talk about”. I knew instantly what he meant. Naturally, my first question was, “How long have I got doc?” which was a bit premature as further tests would need to be carried out. I was worried, I didn’t know how to break it to my wife. You see in the years prior to me getting cancer we had several family members die from breast cancer, I didn’t want to put my wife through it all again.
On 22nd June it was confirmed that I had Oesophageal cancer. For anyone who does not know what that is it’s a type of cancer affecting the gullet – the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach.
As with most people my survival instinct came forth. I repeatedly told myself, ”I’ve beaten the cancer”. You see half the battle for me was mental. I thought I would go green to beat it. I changed my diet, cutting out red meat, dairy, tea and coffee. I started to google ‘cancer’, which was a big mistake and a waste of time. I did find out there was an 8% survival rate. Everything else I found was either nonsense or contradicting.
Back and forth from the hospitals, I went to have tests and by the end of July, they had located a 35-45cm tumour. I remember the moment I was told it felt empty and confusing but not quite empty as the feeling of something growing inside of me felt a bit peculiar.
In August, I started my chemo. Three cycles of chemotherapy of three weeks each. I was on what I called the ‘poison tablet’s’ and while you expect all the symptoms of chemo - losing weight, hair falling out, including eyelashes, no one warned me that your eyelashes block out the sun or that I could get 60 minutes of hiccups several times a day.
But, throughout the whole process, I continued to tell myself “I’ve beaten cancer”.
Six weeks after Chemotherapy I was ready for my Left Thoracoabdominal Oesophagogastrectomy operation. I was slightly nervous, it didn’t help that the surgeon looked so young. For assurance, I asked him if he’d done this before and if he was any good at it. To my relief, he said he had.
So, on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11.00am, my cancer armistice started. The Porters rolled up and I underwent a six-hour operation, which left me with a 63cm scar that started at the front of my stomach went around the side and ended at the spine.
In the New Year, I went back for a further round of chemo. This time it was worse than the first time. But I kept repeating my mantra, “I’ve beaten cancer.”
I had a CT scan and on the 28th May 2010, and 9 months after I was diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer, I was finally given the all clear. Obviously, it was great hearing those little words, but I was so convinced I would beat it that it was a real relief that I actually did.
My advice to anyone going through a similar thing is to try and stay positive and to get advice and support as early as possible. Macmillan Cancer Support and your GP are great sources of support.
Dave Simpson has now made a full recovery and has been working for Central Bedfordshire Healthwatch since April 2013. His experience as a cancer patient has led to his involvement in several local cancer patient groups and volunteering for the local community. Dave is a speaker and champion for Macmillan Cancer Support.