Malcolm’s Story – Oesophageal Cancer

Malcolm's Story, as told by his daughter Gemma Cooper.

When did you discover Malcolm had oesophageal cancer?

Dad was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in June 2017. He was a very quiet and stoic man, he would never complain or go see a doctor about anything. In fact, up to this point I don’t remember him ever being poorly at all.

It was mum and I that noticed he wasn’t eating as much and he had lost weight. He used to lie and say he had eaten when he hadn’t so we urged him to see a doctor in April 2017. He was then referred for an endoscopy but the doctors struggled to get the camera down his throat due to a blockage. So further tests were done and they confirmed the cancer.

Talk us through the time after Malcolm’s diagnosis

Dad began with a couple of rounds of chemotherapy pretty much the week after diagnosis, and  then it was decided that he would need an operation to remove lower part of oesophagus and a section of his stomach where the cancer was situated. I remember thinking it was all happening so fast but personally I was glad and hopeful that they had discovered it in time. Dad seemed to be coping well with it all, he changed his diet and stopped drinking alcohol. He recovered well and in November 2017 he turned 70, just after he got the all clear from the consultants – we were elated!

Unfortunately Dad’s sister died in February 2018 after an operation. It was shortly after that when my dad lost his voice, it was quite gradual. He said he had a sore throat at first so we thought nothing of it, then it continued until his voice was just a whisper. Again, we urged him to see the doctor.

At this point as you do I began researching on the internet why someone may loose their voice and I had already feared the worst. After more tests it was confirmed in June 2018 just before Father’s Day that the cancer had spread to some lymph-nodes near his voice box, explaining the loss of voice and patches in his lung and shoulder area. The realisation that this now was advanced cancer was the worst feeling in the world and because Dad was so strong and calm about everything, I tried to be the same around him. I wanted to remain hopeful, but looking at the statistics for advanced oesophageal cancer I expected we wouldn’t have long.

He started on Chemotherapy again but this time became quite poorly with it. He developed a blocked bile duct and had to stop chemotherapy and have a procedure where a stent was fitted to open his bile duct back up. It was then discovered the cancer had spread even further. The consultants advised a lower dosage of chemotherapy due to his condition, as he was still recovering from the stent.

After coming home from hospital this time we noticed just how little he could eat he just lost interest in food. He took to eating porridge, but he would eat it so quickly just to try and ‘get it down’. He ended up being admitted to hospital again with severe abdominal pain. He now had a blockage in his bowel, causing uncontrollable diarrhoea and as you can imagine, this was so distressing for him. It was after this that we made a decision as a family to stop treatment as he was too ill to take on the chemotherapy again.

Malcolm loved spending time with his grandchildren, even when he wasn’t well

At home dad would sleep a lot. He’d lost a lot of weight probably about 3 stone at this point.

He was taking morphine for the pain and became quite confused. He would attempt and get up and go outside in the night, so we had to make a decision and under Dad’s instruction and wishes, we went to a hospice.

He was admitted to the hospice in August 2018 after not eating for 9 days. He started to eat small amounts in the hospice and some days he seemed better. The hospice wouldn’t keep him much longer, as they said he wasn’t quite ready for palliative care yet. We had to then find a nursing home for him and he was moved a few days later. He spent 9 days in the nursing home before he died on 22nd September 2018.

Why do you fight against oesophageal cancer by supporting Guts UK?

We were all there with him when he died. Towards the end he didn’t eat and I would say he was probably about 8 stone by this time. I’ve never really experienced first hand anyone with cancer before this it’s horrifying watching it literally take over someone’s body in such a way.

I just want to do everything I can to support others in this situation, that’s why I want to help fundraise for oesophageal cancer itself. I really hope that more can be done in terms of following up patients who have been diagnosed and given the all clear, in addition to encouraging people to get themselves checked out following symptoms such as heartburn, food getting stuck etc.

Guts UK is a proud founding charity member of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce. This task force is a group of charities, aiming to double survival rates for the six least survivable cancers by 2029. Four of these six cancers are digestive; stomach, pancreatic, oesophageal and liver.

Discover how you can get involved here, email us at info@gutscharity.org.uk or call 01484 483123 to learn more.

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