Ian’s Story – Oesophageal Cancer

Ian's story is told by his daughter Anna, with help from Ian's wife, Lisa, and son, Rich.

Ian smiling at the camera in a bright green shirtTell us about your dad, Ian

“My dad, Ian, had two main passions: rugby and golf. He played rugby from a young age and was very fit, but after knee injuries, took up refereeing which he also loved. He’d always tell jokes and wind people up. Everyone who met Dad knew where they stood with him.

When did Ian’s symptoms begin?

Shortly after lockdown, Dad struggled to swallow foods like steak and chicken. He was hesitant to ‘waste’ his GPs time during COVID, but my mum, Lisa, phoned the doctor for him in May 2020. A scan was organised within days. We all imagined it would be nothing major.

After weeks of scans, the hospital phoned Dad to tell him he had oesophageal cancer. We were all in shock – how was this happening? But when we found out it was linked to Barrett’s oesophagus (which Dad likely had) and heartburn, it made sense. Finding out all of this information over the phone was difficult.

None of us knew heartburn could be a sign of cancer. I was studying a Masters in Design Innovation at University, and incorporated oesophageal cancer into my studies. I looked at the lack of awareness of the symptoms, exploring how innovation could be used to raise awareness. This is where I found Guts UK and their work.

What did Ian’s treatment plan look like?

Ian and his wife, Lisa
Ian and his wife, Lisa

Dad was due to start chemotherapy on the 30th July 2020 (my 24th birthday). We remained positive, as the oncologists said he was on a ‘curative’ path. Before this, Dad stopped being able to eat or drink and he ended up falling due to the exhaustion. My mum and my brother, Rich, took Dad to hospital where he stayed for a week with a feeding tube. Eventually, he began chemotherapy and was even still managing to play golf. He’d manage the full 18 holes, which amazed everyone around him!

Dad was due an oesophagectomy (removal of some/most of the oesophagus). Sadly, due to COVID numbers in hospital, his operation was cancelled three times. On the 9th November 2020, he finally went in. The operation was due to last eight to nine hours.

How did the surgery go?

My mum called me in the afternoon, and I knew something must’ve gone wrong because Dad’s operation wasn’t due to finish yet. Dad’s operation had been abandoned, as the cancer had spread too far. We knew what this meant, and we knew the statistics surrounding oesophageal cancer. I rushed back home to be with my mum and brother.

We spent Christmas together knowing Dad’s cancer was no longer curable. In January, Dad was offered radiotherapy. We were advised the success rates vary. But the radiotherapy made the cancer inactive, and we were able to make the most of the time we had left together. We had amazing family holidays to the Caribbean and around the Mediterranean. We went white water rafting, which Dad had always wanted to do. Dad even climbed the biggest hill in Santorini in blistering heat! We had almost eight months where everything was nearly normal.

Did Ian have any further treatment?

Ian walking Anna down the aisle on her wedding day
Anna and Ian on her wedding day

When we returned from holiday, Dad’s chemotherapy started again. This time it really took it out of him. He lost lots of weight and struggled to eat or drink anything.

Knowing things were getting worse, I moved my wedding forward. Dad gave me away on the 29th July 2022. We could tell he was feeling poorly due to the chemotherapy, but he put on a brave face as always and I will be forever grateful that my dad was at my wedding.

In August 2022, Dad’s oncologist advised that they would be stopping chemotherapy. It wasn’t working anymore, and made him so unwell. Mum and Dad celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary together on 5th September.

Talk us through the following weeks

At this point, the tumour had grown so much it was causing him lots of pain. He was passed to palliative care and he had radiotherapy to try and shrink the tumour. He needed to stay in hospital to get enough hydration. We took him to hospital, where he rested in bed watching rugby on his laptop. Mum left him that evening, and he text her telling her not to rush back in the morning, that he’d be waiting and told her he loved her.

Early on the 25th September, the hospital called to say we needed to get there as soon as possible. Dad had developed pneumonia. We surrounded his bed, and he sadly passed just before midday.

Dad was a real family man. He would do anything for us. We are so proud of him. If only we’d known about the symptoms earlier, we wonder if the outcome would’ve been different for our family.

From left to right; Rich (Ian’s son), Lisa (Ian’s wife), Anna (Ian’s daughter) & Ian.

Why are you sharing Ian’s story today?

Dad was such a genuinely kind person. Every Sunday he delivered dinners from our local pub to elderly people in the community, right up until the Sunday before he sadly passed away. We hope by sharing his story, one day, no other family will go through what we did. Dad would’ve wanted to help someone else if he could. It’s his legacy.”

Ian’s family chose to support Guts UK by collecting donations at Ian’s funeral and in his memory, to help other families affected by oesophageal cancer. Ian’s nephew is also taking on the London Marathon for Guts UK in his name. Find out more about supporting Guts UK in memory of your loved one here.

You can help take us one step closer to finding kinder, more effective treatments for conditions like oesophageal cancer by donating today. Thank you.

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