Join the Cancer Survivors' Club
David Clensy talks to the cancer survivor who was inspired to compile a book of cancer survival stories as a message of hope for cancer patients.
WHEN Chris Geiger was told he had just three months to live, at the age of 23, as he struggled to take in the enormity of what the doctor was telling him, his mind started to cling to just one thing – a film he had watched on television just the night before.
The movie, Champions, told the moving story of steeple chase jockey Bob Champion’s fight against cancer, and as he struggled with the battle he was about to face, Chris kept telling himself: “If Bob Champion can survive it, so can I”.
“It held me together, especially in those first few months after the diagnosis – when I thought I may well be in the final weeks of my life. I needed to read a positive book about cancer – about a cancer survivor, because then, even more than now, the word cancer simply sounded like a death sentence.”
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For the first few hours, Chris admits he was in total denial about what the doctors were telling him.
“I was told I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and my initial reaction, to be honest, was relief,” he says. “I’d spent eight months feeling dreadfully ill, and desperate to have the condition properly diagnosed. I was just glad they’d put a name to it.
“I had no idea I was about to go through two years of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants.”
But even now, 20 years on, the 45-year-old remembers the terror that the “C word” instilled in him the moment he heard it
“The thing that helped me, was writing,” he says. “I started keeping a journal of everything that was happening to me – I suppose as a 23-year-old, I was just trying to make sense of the whole thing.
“I tried to find books that told positive cancer survival stories, but other than the Bob Champion book itself, I really struggled to find anything.”
After getting the all-clear in his mid-20s, Chris, from Portishead, went on to develop a successful computer software business. But he never forgot the hope he got from Bob Champion’s book.
Which is why, after developing a side-line career as a writer – he wrote a column in the Post about his experiences of cancer for 18 months – Chris decided to write the sort of book he wished he’d had when he was diagnosed.
“I didn’t want it to be just about my experience, though that is in there,” he explains. “I wanted to make it accessible to all sorts of people, and to include a broad range of cancer types – to ensure it gives people hope, whatever type of cancer they had been diagnosed with.”
*The Cancer Survivors’ Club is out now, priced £8.99. All profits go to cancer charities.
*Chris Geiger will launch The Cancer Survivors’ Club at Foyles, Quaker’s Friars, on Wednesday, November 14, at 6.30pm. The event is free, but spaces are limited. Book your place by emailing email@example.com
Two years ago, Chris set about finding a broad range of cancer survivors from across the world, who would be prepared to write a chapter each of the book – telling their story of survival.
Nine of the “survivors” in the book are from Bristol – three of their stories are told here.
Michael Stephenson of Henleaze couldn’t believe what he was hearing when he was told his daughter Clare could have life-threatening cancer
“CLARE was having a difficult time during the early stages of her long awaited pregnancy.
After a few tests, the doctors told Clare they had discovered an ovarian cyst – but surgery to remove the cyst revealed she also had bowel cancer.
To learn your child has cancer, is quite simply the most devastating thing to experience. What do you say when you’re asked “Why me Dad?”
Clare was transferred to a specialist cancer ward. We arrived in the evening to find her looking very poorly and breathing with the aid of oxygen. Sadly during the night she lost her baby.
On the Wednesday afternoon a doctor had arranged to see Clare. Within just minutes he arranged for a chest x-ray and swiftly organised for her to be moved into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). We had been told that this doctor, who specialised in cancer, spoke his mind and was very direct in his approach. But we really weren’t expecting him to tell us that Clare was desperately ill and had failing kidneys.
We also weren’t expecting him to tell us we should prepare ourselves for the worst; Clare could actually die. I can’t begin to explain how awful it felt to be told she might not make it.
I was standing in a busy hospital corridor outside Clare’s ward at the time, people rushing around when we were given this dreadful news. I am not ashamed or embarrassed to admit I broke down and cried.
Following many difficult months of treatment, Clare was still feeling fragile as the chemotherapy started to do its job. The doctors were pleased with her progress.
Over the months Clare made great strides back to full health again. Now she just has regular blood tests and check-ups as a precautionary measure, as I know all members of the cancer survivors’ club do.
In August this year, Clare reached the six year milestone since the end of her treatment. She is fit and well and the dark days are a fading memory. This horrible encounter with cancer has really changed our lives.
No longer do any of us take life for granted or waste a minute; we appreciate just how precious life is.”
Jason Edgar, of Kingswood, was told he had testicular cancer as he was going through the breakdown of his marriage
“I WAS sitting opposite a doctor in a small hospital consulting room surrounded by medical equipment, trying desperately to comprehend the words ‘testicular cancer’.
Cancer was something other people got, not me.
My story begins five years ago when doctors told me I had a cancerous tumour, which had probably been growing inside me for several months, prior to it being discovered.
In addition to the stress of being diagnosed, my wife had recently decided to end our marriage.
This wasn’t a good time in my life. Not that there’s ever a good time to be diagnosed with cancer. I was feeling especially isolated and very lonely at the time. I knew instantly I was facing the biggest challenge of my life; a challenge I had no choice but to accept.
During the weeks that followed the separation from my wife, I’d been experiencing some sharp pains in my left testicle. Initially I put this down to stress, caused by both the breakdown of my marriage and overwork.
While taking a bath one night I noticed my left testicle felt really hard, like a stone. When I examined it further, I got a sharp shooting pain which made me physically sick. Over the next few weeks the pain continued to get worse, so reluctantly I went to see my doctor.
He immediately referred me to a consultant urologist; this obviously increased my anxiety.
But the pain grew worse. Soon anything physical like just leaning over my desk or sitting on my daughter’s bed reading to her, caused immense pain.
Eventually I couldn’t handle it anymore, so visited the Accident & Emergency department. After a short and scary wait I was led into a small cubicle by a young doctor, who was about my age. He carried out an ultrasound. I could see the screen clearly showed a mass in my left testicle.
I was sweating, yet felt cold and my heart was bouncing around my chest; caused by sheer panic I guess.
While getting dressed I noticed the doctor talking to one of his colleagues. Their body language suggested there was a problem. Then I overheard one of them saying, “It’s a wake-up call, he must be about our age.”
Minutes later I heard those unforgettable words “testicular cancer.”
He said the cancerous testicle would need to be removed as soon as possible.
He explained that my cancer was the most curable type and the prognosis was very good. Despite what he’d said, I continued to worry.
It was hard to believe that little me had cancer; until this moment I’d been a healthy 31 year old. Naively I always thought it was older people who got cancer.
They also said after the operation I’d need some chemotherapy.
This was the scariest time of my life. Thankfully my mum and her friend kept me company and provided great support when I went in for the operation. I then had a CT scan to check the cancer wasn’t spreading.
I didn’t like the idea of chemotherapy, but was told it was necessary just in case any of the cancerous cells were still lurking after the operation.
Thankfully now I’m pleased to say I am cancer free. I continue to have routine check-ups and my last scan showed I was still clear of cancer. I even help a local testicular cancer charity, called It's in the Bag. We support men with testicular cancer in the South West and I am the fundraising team leader.”
When Barbara Conway, from Whitehall, found a lump in her breast, she hadn’t expected to be told she had breast cancer
“I WAS a fit 51-year-old when I found a lump in my breast. I’d had lumps before, but thankfully after seeing a specialist and having mammograms they always turned out to be cysts.
This lump appeared during a very hectic time in my life. With the help from other relatives I was looking after my elderly parents. Both were very poorly. Sadly in March we decided they needed more professional and experienced residential care.
On the Friday they were both admitted to a care home, I thought, I’m going to see the doctor and get my lump checked out.
My doctor quickly referred me to the hospital and just two days later I went through a number of tests. I had a mammogram, scan, and a biopsy taken. Once all the tests were completed the consultant called me back into his office and said those dreaded words “Yes, it is cancer.” He might as well have hit me with a sledge hammer.
“You knew, didn’t you?” he asked. I suppose deep down I did wonder, but chose to believe it wasn’t anything more than another cyst. I’d had the lump for several months and knew I should have seen my doctor sooner.
I had a little time to digest the news and think about the options I’d been given, including having a mastectomy.
In the meantime I carried on throwing myself into my work and dancing. I was a dance teacher for children and adults with learning difficulties and special needs. As well as this I also ran a book-keeping business so always kept very busy.
At my next appointment at the breast care centre I told the consultant that after a lot of sleepless nights, I’d made the decision to go ahead with the mastectomy. He was delighted and thought it was the right decision for my long term health. He said the operation would be done the following week.
I was pleased, the sooner the better from my perspective.
A lady called Margaret whom I met while in hospital was going to be there at the same time as me. We first met while I was waiting to hear my tests results. We soon got chatting and found we had so much in common.
My friend Teresa came with me to the hospital. When we arrived I immediately noticed Margaret, she had some relatives keeping her company. We all sat together and were joking about, pretending we were at an airport lounge waiting to be transported to some exotic destination. This helped pass the time and made us both feel a little more relaxed. At 10.15am we were called in, first Margaret and then me.
Soon I was lying on a hospital bed being whisked off to theatre with the porter, nurse and Teresa pushing. The joking had stopped now and I was starting to feel very anxious indeed.
I was moved onto another bed then Teresa and I said our goodbyes. I was suddenly nervous. They all did their best to reassure me everything would be ok. The next thing I knew it was midnight, my breast had been removed and I just remember my throat feeling really dry.
I was given a cup of tea.
My friend Margaret was in the next bed to me. We were able to chat and look after each other.
Six years after my operation and I am still working full time as an accounts manager, colour counsellor, healer, teacher and colour life coach – I love keeping busy.”