It all begins on 12 December 2014. I was sat on the sofa at home writing Christmas Cards watching some film on Film 4 with Pip (my dog) snuggled up to me. I was recovering from a planned hernia operation and unable to drive whilst I still had the stitches. The stitches were planned to come out on the 15th and I was looking forward to that day, I would be able to drive and would be able to take Pip onto Dartmoor for one of our more enjoyable walks.

Our Afternoon was interrupted by the phone ringing. The caller introduced herself as Dr Turners secretary, apologised for the delay and asked that I attend Dr Turners surgery on 15th December at Torbay Hospital. I thought Dr Turner was the Surgeon who had performed the recent surgery and the appointment was routine follow up.

That Monday, (15th) Pip and I enjoyed 4 hours roaming over the moorland around Ripon Tor, Saddle Tor and seeking out our favourite places. Returning home, I left an exhausted dog and made my way to Torbay Hospital. On checking in I was told to report to haematology. Once there, I had to wait for a blood test. Now, as I was not familiar with hospital protocol, I thought nothing of it. I assumed it was routine post-surgery. To be honest I was not exactly sure what haematology was.

Perhaps I should point out that I was never an ill person. Yes, I had many fractures re-set during Army Service, but I had never had days off sick.

Eventually I was called into the consulting room. Hindsight is a marvellous thing. I should have realised that something was not quite right when I was confronted by two nurses and Dr Turner. There were also other nurses peering around the door to the examination room. However, I walked in oblivious to what was about to happen. They say ignorance is bliss.

Dr Turner apologised for the delay in getting back to me but they had to send the results of the biopsy away for a second opinion. “Whoa” I said. “What biopsy?” Dr Turned replied the results of the biopsy they took on my visit to Hospital. “Hold on.” I replied, “ I think you have the wrong patient here, I didn’t have a biopsy I had a hernia repair, I can show you the scar. The nurse at the GP’s took the stitches out this morning”

You could have heard a pin drop with the silence that followed, and it was then I realised this was no ordinary consultation. Dr Turner explained that when they opened me up, they found a tumour, it turned out to be a rare form of Lymphoma. I really don’t recall that much more, it was white noise. Dr Turner did a physical examination, and confirmed that I was at least Stage 3 and we would need to conduct some more tests to confirm the full extent of the lymphoma.

The following week, was a blur. A series of scans and Bone marrow tests, confirmed that the lymphoma was in my neck, my chest, my spleen, my gut, and was in my bone marrow. On the 23 December, (which would have been my wedding anniversary) I was told that we needed to start treatment ASAP and without treatment this would be my last Christmas. I was told that conventional chemotherapy would not be enough to get me into remission, and that a trial regime was available should I wish to take part.

Hobsons’s choice really, I volunteered for the trial, was accepted and began treatment on 2 January 2015 and every Friday thereafter for the next 17 weeks was known as Chemo Day. I was told I would have an Autologous Stem cell transplant and that once we have destroyed as much of the cancer as possible then we would harvest my cells, freeze them, undergo more chemo and then transplant the cells back. This was my best chance of staying in remission.

My Stem cell transplant was scheduled for 2 July 2015. I fondly remember John the Nurse defrosting the cells and confirming that “Gary, today is your Birthday” He was right, I celebrate the day as my new beginning and the start of my fight back.


Fast forward to 2017, I thought I had beaten cancer. The nursing team at Torbay seemed confident, and I moved house, from my Victorian terrace to a nearly new build. I was looking forward to my new life. Then, in December 2018, I picked up a virus that required several courses of anti-biotics. Several months later I noticed a difference, I was sweating at nights, finding gentle exercise difficult and thought I had best approach the doctors.

A trip to Torbay hospital confirmed that I had relapsed, further tests confirmed that again it spread throughout my body and had found its way into my bone marrow. Torbay confirmed they were unable to treat me and transferred me to Derriford Hospital. I can honestly say, I had never felt so down.

Derriford Hospital confirmed treatment had to start ASAP and that we would use the same chemotherapy drugs as before but on a different regime. For the second time in my life, I was told that without treatment I would not see another Christmas. The difference in the treatment this time, I would have a donor stem cell transplant. (Clearly, mine were no good!). All I wanted for Christmas 2019, was a bone marrow donor.

My treatment was curtailed, due to severe nerve damage. But the good news was that Anthony Nolan had found a donor, a 19yr old lad in Germany. My Transplant was scheduled for 18th February 2020. Every thing was similar to the first transplant. Being in Isolation while your body is chemically cleansed of cancer. My Transplant was delayed due to Storm David. My cells were diverted to Amsterdam and held overnight. The rescheduled flight went to Bristol so the couriers had a lot longer journey to endure. But, on the 19th yet again a nurse was telling me “Today is your birthday”

As a side point, I now celebrate three birthdays- one more than Her Majesty!

When I was allowed out of Isolation, I was found accommodation at Hearts Together, paid for by charitable donations. Within 3 days I found myself back at Derriford Hospital having severe Graft versus Host reaction.

Two weeks later I found myself at Hearts Together again, although everything was different. COVID had swept the country. I could not go out with my compromised immune system. So, the staff at Hearts Together did my shopping, they did my laundry, and they took me home so I could get some spare clothes. It was going to be many weeks later that I was strong enough to go home. Even then, the staff at Hearts Together would come up onto Dartmoor to collect me for my Clinic days, picking me up in the early hours so I could be at Derriford for 8.30. Nothing was too much for this team.

It may seem, dramatic but, I have so many people to thank. Because without them I would not be able to tell my story. There is an unknown German who, without Anthony Nolan Trust, would not have donated his stem cells to me. There are the Nurses, Doctors, Health care Assistants at the Bracken ward and Birch Day care unit who without their devotion, professionalism and encouragement I would have not made it through the treatment. Lastly, but by no means least, there is the team at Hearts Together, who helped me recover and adapt back to my new life.

As some background. Ever since I was a lad, I enjoyed sport and exercise. At school I was county standard at Rugby and Athletics. I joined the Army as teenager, maintained my sport playing Rugby, Tug of War at Corps level. On returning to Civilian Life, I took up half marathon running (for charity) and kept myself fit. We took up Scuba Diving, Diving in many exotic and some not so exotic places. I could walk effetely for 13 hours on Dartmoor. Pip and I had spent Holidays in Snowdonia walking the peaks over 3,000ft. Now, -I get out of breath climbing stairs, I struggle to walk long distance without severe discomfort form the nerve damage, I am often falling asleep in the afternoons from shear exhaustion.

I have often wondered why I have survived. I have seen so many people succumb to Cancer. They have left loved ones, families and heart ache. I have been told I am “pig headed” Stubborn” I have a “Staffordshire bull terrier attitude”. Maybe those qualities are required to survive cancer I do not know.

What I do know is that I need to make a difference for future cancer patients. Make their journey and that of their families an easier one. I can only say “Thank you” to the institutions that saved me. But it seems inadequate which is why I am on a mission to raise as much as I can to help these charities to continue the work they do and to help others.