A nagging granddaughter ended up doing Brian Childs the world of good as he stopped ignoring what turned out to be symptoms of gullet cancer.
The 68-year-old had been having problems swallowing and digesting his food for around three months.
“We’d been sat around the dinner table and once again I’d had difficulty eating my meal,” Brian explained. “While I’d had these symptoms for a while I just put them down to stress as I was coming up to being made redundant – although I’d got another job lined up I thought I was perhaps worrying subconsciously. It was my granddaughter who was firm with me and told me to get it sorted out.”
Brian, who lives on Walsall’s Yew Tree Estate, went to see his GP and had an endoscopy. The results came back just a couple of days later and Brian was told a tumour had been detected.
“That was a shock because I think I’d convinced myself I’d got an ulcer rather than having oesophageal cancer,” he said. “I was told that I could have chemotherapy at first to shrink the tumour and that’s the treatment I had for six months.”
Brian, a former butcher and factory worker, underwent an oesophagectomy in December 2000. This procedure removes part or all of the oesophagus, the tube that moves food from the throat to the stomach. Surgeons rebuild the oesophagus using part of the stomach or large intestine.
“I look back now and say I have survived very well because this type of cancer doesn’t have a high survival rate, often because people have ignored the symptoms for too long. If you have difficulty swallowing or eating or repeated acid reflux or heartburn for three weeks then that could be a sign that all is not well.”
Brian and his wife Kate, 66, have shared their story to raise awareness of this type of Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer and credit the Upper GI Blues support group with helping them, and others, adapt to life before, during and after surgery.
The group was formed in 2005, with Brian as chair, and the Walsall group was formed in 2009 by Sam King and Brenda Yates, working in partnership with Sandwell. Funds are raised for the hospitals in Walsall and Sandwell and for the Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham as well as for local research into this type of cancer.
Kate said: “When you have surgery you expect the medical problem to have gone away but with gullet cancer things don’t just sort themselves out overnight.
“Brian still had difficulty swallowing and was worried that the cancer had come back. This went on for a while and is usual – just having the support group with people in a similar situation who know what you’re going through is a great comfort to both patients and their carers.
“My first thought when Brian was diagnosed wasn’t “It’s cancer” but “How’s he going to cope with all the appointments” as he’s a typical man who doesn’t like to make a fuss and rarely sees a doctor! The group’s members have all sorts of advice and tips to share that have really come in useful. It’s the type of atmosphere where people feel comfortable asking questions.”
The group has also raised £400,000 for the hospitals over the last decade – last year it raised £20,000 to buy a nasogastric endoscope for patients at Walsall Manor. The group’s fundraising featured on Surprise Surprise hosted by Holly Willoughby a couple of years back.
Brian added that Upper GI Blues is for anyone diagnosed with Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer of the gullet, the stomach the pancreas and the liver.
“We have speakers on a range of topics including surgery and diet. Patients have to adjust to finding the right diet for them and maintaining their weight and others’ experiences can really help. I enjoy most food now and can be part of social situations and family occasions.
“I hope that talking about the symptoms associated with this type of cancer will encourage anyone who has them to get help, particularly if they’re aged over 50 and have been having them for a while. You can’t afford to leave it too late.”
Oesophageal Awareness Month runs throughout February and Trust staff and patients will host an information stand on Wednesday 24 February from 10am-2pm in the main atrium at the Manor Hospital, helping to raise awareness of this type of cancer.