John’s Story – Oesophageal cancer

John woke in the night throwing up blood. He had a burst stomach ulcer, and they found a tumour in his oesophagus. In September 2021, John walked his daughter down the aisle. Nine months later, he passed away aged 69. His daughter Charlotte shares his story.

John in 2013, aged 61, sat on a park bench wearing a blue navy shirt looking at the camera.

Tell us about your dad, John. 

“My dad, John, was always very strong, healthy, and fit. He was regularly mistaken for someone 10 years younger. Dad was a very friendly and confident person who could start a conversation in an empty room! He had such a wide and diverse group of friends. Mum used to joke that they couldn’t go anywhere without him bumping into someone he knew (even on holiday in India!) I knew just how true this was, as once I witnessed a mugging and went into the police station to give a statement. When I shared my last name, the police officer asked, “You’re not John’s daughter, are you?” 

Dad trained as an engineer with the Ministry of Defence, and then went onto become a pebble-dasher (it was very popular in the 80s/90s, honest!) and builder.”

When did he begin experiencing symptoms and what were they?

“Just as COVID was hitting, I drove to the airport to pick my parents up from the airport. As soon as I set my eyes on Dad I was shocked by the amount of weight he’d lost, which was so noticeable due to his usually slim build. It struck me as odd since they’d been on an all-inclusive holiday, so should have been eating much more than usual, and I told Mum that I was worried.

A couple of days later Mum called and said, “Don’t worry, but your dad is in hospital. He woke in the night throwing up blood”. The hospital did an endoscopy, discovered he had a burst stomach ulcer, but they also found a tumour in his oesophagus.

John is stood beside Charlotte in his navy suit. Charlotte is wearing a white laced wedding dress and holding a bouquet of flowers. Charlotte is smiling at the camera.

Dad received his oesophageal cancer diagnosis in March/April 2020. We were so shocked. Dad had experienced heartburn on and off throughout his life, but had never received a diagnosis of Barrett’s oesophagus. In the weeks that passed, Dad also shared that he’d been struggling to swallow some foods too.”

How did John’s treatment go? 

“Dad started off with four rounds of chemotherapy (which very nearly killed him) and then had invasive surgery. He was due to have four more rounds after the surgery, but only managed two, as he was struggling so much with the treatment. In September 2021, he managed to walk me down the aisle to give me away to my husband, Nick. It was difficult for him, but it meant the world to us both. Nine months later, he passed away aged 69.

Why are you sharing your story today? 

John in 2019 in a restaurant, sat with his glasses of white wine on the table and smiling at the camera.

“When I look at our friends, I know most of them only know about oesophageal cancer because of my dad. They certainly won’t have known the symptoms. Anything I can do to raise awareness of oesophageal cancer, the symptoms, better screening and the work of charities like Guts UK, I will in a heartbeat. 

In 2023, I ran the London Marathon in Dad’s memory and raised £3,318.00. It’s funny; he would always say, “Jogging is a fools’ game, it’s bad for your knees!”, he was more into strength training, with weights and HIIT; but he’d always applauded anyone who could run a marathon. I knew what I had to do, and I know he’d be beaming with pride. 

20% of oesophageal cancers are diagnosed at emergency setting such as A&E, just like my dad’s. His cancer was at a late stage and hard to treat. Earlier diagnosis is crucial to giving families like mine a fighting chance. Thank you for taking the time to read my family’s story.”

John in 1988, around the age of 36 to 37 is sat on his motorcycle seat while holding Charlotte as a child in front of him.

Guts UK is funding research into the deadliest digestive cancers to diagnose these cancers earlier, and save lives. Oesophageal cancer is one of the six less survivable cancers. The others are stomach, pancreatic, liver, brain & lung cancer, with an average five-year survival rate of just 16%.

We have joined forces with other charities to make up the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT). With the aim of increasing these survival rates to 28% by 2029. But we can’t do it without you.

You can save lives. Please consider donating today. Thank you.