Mark’s story – Oesophageal cancer

Mark listened to his body and knew when to seek help. After chest pain and passing a black poo, he knew he needed to go to his GP and booked in for the next day.

Tell us about you

Mark is standing in a garage. He is wearing black, green and white motorbike leathers and is holding a matching helmet. He is smiling at the camera and wears black sunglasses. There is a motorbike behind him.

I’m Mark, I’m 61 years old and I live with my wife Jules in West Yorkshire. Though I’m essentially retired now, I used to work in the electricity supply industry. We have two children, Alice who lives in Newcastle and Tom who is currently living in New Zealand. 

I’m a keen track motorcyclist and often go abroad with friends to bike. I used to do a lot of cycling too, and Jules and I often walk. We like to travel abroad too, and when home we’ll often babysit Alice’s dog!”

When did your symptoms begin?

Mark and Jules are sitting together on a boat, smiling at the camera. Jules is holding a glass of white wine and they both are wearing black sunglasses, black tops and shorts.

In October 2021, I was abroad on a motorbike trip and I noticed quite a bad pain across my chest when I ate breakfast at the hotel. It happened again the next day too.  

I flew home as planned, and the day afterwards I felt weak and faint which is odd for me. When I went to the toilet, my poo was black. I thought, “That’s not good” so I contacted my GP. Though COVID was still affecting the NHS, the doctor arranged for me to visit the next day. 

At my GP appointment, they said, “To be on the safe side, we’ll get you in for an endoscopy and a colonoscopy, think of it as an MOT at your age”. I thought very little of it and a week later, I received the letter for my appointment. I chose the earliest date available in November.”

Talk us through your investigations

The colonoscopy (camera to look at the bowels) and endoscopy (camera to look at my oesophagus and so on) weren’t pleasant, but I remember the gentleman saying, “There’s a little bit of inflammation in your oesophagus, but nothing that is worrying me. I’ll take some biopsies (samples of tissue)”. 

Five weeks later in December, the hospital called and said, “Can you come to see us tomorrow?”. I had an appointment with a physiotherapist for my ongoing sciatica, so I told them that I was busy. The hospital didn’t seem happy about this and asked if I could move my other appointment. Jules and I knew something was off, so I called them back to ask who my appointment was with and when I Googled the name, I saw it was a Macmillan nurse, I called her straight back. 

On the phone, and at the appointment we were in complete disbelief. We genuinely believed there had been a mix up, and kept saying, “Are you sure?” My diagnosis of oesophageal cancer was a huge shock, we were in complete disbelief.”

Talk us through your treatment

After Christmas, I started going through the staging process, this is a series of tests and scans where the doctors determine the extent of your cancer. Due to the early detection of my cancer, it was decided to try and scrape the cancerous cells from my oesophagus whilst carrying out another endoscopy. But when they went in to do the procedure, the surgeon said, “You need an operation”. Something was clearly forming at this point. They asked me how long I’d had Barrett’s oesophagus, where I explained I’d never had a diagnosis of Barrett’s, but it would make sense as I did have periods of my life with bad heartburn or reflux. 

Although my cancer was found at a very early stage they decided I needed chemotherapy and an operation to remove my oesophagus. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we just wanted to get on with it. A friend of mine who’d been through bowel cancer told me what to expect with chemotherapy, but explained that I will get through it, and I did. I had four rounds over eight weeks. On my better days, Jules would fill me up with lots of food to keep my weight on!

After the chemotherapy, I had my oesophagectomy. It was tough because COVID restrictions were still in place and Jules couldn’t be with me. When the surgery had finished, he rang Jules and said, “I couldn’t feel the tumour, or see it. It’s early days”, which kept Jules going. 

I spent two days in intensive care, and six more days in a high dependency unit, until I was allowed to go home. Even the kids couldn’t visit me, but they held

a sign up through a window saying, “Hi Dad! Good win from Leeds United!”, which cheered me up. The walk from the ward to the car was so tough, and a real wake-up call for the recovery I had ahead of me.”

Talk us through your recovery

The hardest thing to get used to, and it is still a huge struggle for me, is figuring out what I can eat and drink with my new body. I spent my whole life having breakfast, lunch and dinner, but now I’ve been told to eat little and often. I can’t drink as much tea or coffee as I did and I do struggle still to figure out what food is good, and what food I struggle with. As a result of the surgery, I have dumping syndrome too, but it’s not as bad as it was.”

How are you now? 

“I’m two years on from my surgery, and though I’m still recovering in many ways, I feel good in myself now. The cancer hasn’t stopped me from doing what I want to do. If anything, it makes our family more determined to get on with life, as you never know what’s around the corner. My next challenge is figuring out how I can eat more food to improve my energy and stamina so I can get back to cycling. In the meantime, I can still ride my motorbike, go on holiday and enjoy life. 

I’m sharing my story today because I really want to help people who are in that odd in-between place of having a diagnosis, but not knowing what stage their cancer is, or what their treatment is going to be. I felt quite lost at this time, and hearing other peoples’ experiences helped me. 

I’m always telling my friends when they complain of any symptoms to get themselves checked, and not to mess about. I’m so glad I called the doctor after I passed the black stool, because I might’ve been diagnosed much later if I hadn’t. It’s funny, the Macmillan nurses call me “iron man” because they think I have an active lifestyle riding my motorbike, or going to the gym and cycling, but I’m just someone who kept a positive attitude. My story is one of hope. I had cancer, but I’m here to tell the tale. 


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.