John’s Story

“Say hi to Sarah for me…”


Men get a bad rap when seeking medical advice, but in our defence, doctors bear some responsibility for that.

The prime example is that menopause is widely spoken about and medicalised. Still, the fall of testosterone levels in men after 40 isn’t discussed, even though the man boobs are a giveaway.

My GP practice had not heard from me for many years, so when I turned up with a shopping list of health problems, they decided I was turning into a hypochondriac. In the GP’s defence, my appointments were telephone consultations, which is an entirely different story.

I could not shake off a head cold, leading to a recurring ear infection. Then, when I caught a round of shingles and could not get fit for the London Marathon, I thought there was something more serious despite what my GP was saying.


You’ve Got Cancer

Following two new symptoms, a spate of indigestion and an upset stomach, I then had a conversation with a doctor friend who thought it was pointing toward bowel cancer. I couldn’t believe it as I had no family history, but it seemed logical, so I booked an appointment with a surgeon to check it out.

From our first meeting, I knew he was convinced that I was in trouble, so various scans were booked to be sure. The scan results showed good news – it wasn’t long covid, but then the bad news: there was an 11 cm bowel cancer tumour, already about a year old.


The good thing with the diagnostic process is once you have seen the tumour and know the full extent of the damage, this motivates you for the work ahead. The treatment plan then starts to present itself.


In my case, the surgeon was concerned about the size and age of it, so the initial Chemotherapy would need to be as strong as possible. All I had to do was keep myself as fit as possible, as I was determined to have a second and third round of Chemotherapy as an option.


Exercise Is Key

There are plenty of books and internet advice on Chemotherapy Treatment Management, so after much research, I opted for the Lance Armstrong one. While ethically questionable, his substance and performance management approach has shown what we can do.


Fundamentally, I noticed they all had the same advice: exercise when you feel tired; if you are still tired, sleep and if you’re feeling okay, get on with your day. Supplement that with lots of bio yoghurts to protect your stomach and keep your fluid levels up – and you’re ready for anything.


The exercise style is very important. I focused on plenty of gym work to build muscle, along with plenty of steady walking, with no serious cardio, as that can burn muscle. Muscle retention is a store for the Chemotherapy once it has done its work, protecting the rest of your body and organs. The thing that will beat you, in the end, is the nerve damage that leads to pins and needles in your hands and feet, but I managed that with exercise sleeves for my legs and arms to keep the blood in my extremities and intense physiotherapy to maintain blood supply.


The most fundamental thing is to own the treatment and start once you know exactly what you want from it. It would help if you remembered that you are the only one with first-hand experience of what you’re going through, so it’s important to trust your own experience and instincts as much as the advice you are given.


When I decided to go for multiple rounds of chemo, I knew it was right for me and I could handle it. But that doesn’t mean you can push through without any consequences. Therefore, you must be sure of the objectives of your treatment because it will be challenging, and you will have to live with the effects of your treatment. So, if the decisions are yours, that can make any bad outcome easier to bear.


Surviving Chemo

Over time, it becomes very gruelling; you need to focus on your routine and although I expected to do a second round, I wanted to make sure a third round of treatment was always an option if the worst came to worst.

The first round of chemo was very successful; it took the tumour down from 11 to 5cm, and after a meeting with the Surgeon, he was still concerned, so after a conversation with the oncologist, I opted for the second round of treatment.

That second round was equally successful as the first round of treatments, taking it from 5cm to just over 1cm.

At that point we agreed that the Chemotherapy had done enough, and I was now as ready as I would ever be for the surgery.


Facing Surgery

While I was never looking forward to the surgery, I did not doubt that the team working on me were the best as far as I was concerned, in that dog people suit dog people. Imagine you’ve crash-landed on a desert island; just as the despair kicks in, you discover that the three other survivors from your plane are Bear Grylls, Ray Mears and Ellen MacArthur. How could you be nervous about that?

Jump to six weeks later and I was in the ITU celebrating no ileostomy bag, completely free of pain, and negotiating my release like Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies – something I know the nurses thoroughly appreciated.

Of course, I’m simplifying all of this; it was more complex than you might think. The surgical team advocates Enhanced Recovery, which means getting moving as quickly as possible and losing things like catheters and drips immediately. All hospitals practise this, but the degree to which this is embraced varies considerably between the staff, so I highly suggest everyone ask their surgical team about it.

A few days ago, I learned I am now completely cancer-free. While the thought of no more Chemotherapy is great news, the work continues as I need to get my fitness back and lose the extra weight.

I was lucky throughout the whole process, part gifted, as I had a great team looking after me, and part earned by sticking out for what I wanted.


What Cancer Has Taught Me

If I had any final advice or insights I’ve learned from this entire experience, beyond cutting down on your processed food before any of this happens, don’t allow the treatment to overwhelm you and your world. It would help if you made time for those around you. They will suffer as much, if not more, than you, as there is nothing they can do.


This was brought into sharp focus when my wife needed a mastectomy during the worst of my Chemotherapy. My support was needed, so I could take time off from obsessing about myself.


Looking back, the process has not been unpleasant; it has given me a chance to re-focus my life. But with all major life decisions about whether these changes will be permanent, time will tell.

In closing, I haven’t mentioned any names of the guys who helped me through this process; this being a public document was considered the best approach. However, that is not the case for Sarah in the Chemotherapy Suite, who insisted she wanted a mention, so say hi to Sarah for me.

I hope my story helps you in some way.


Never miss a thing when you join our mailing list!

Despite having the support of family, friends, and medical professionals, it’s normal to feel isolated and alone. 

However, you are not alone. You are now a part of a community who have gone through similar experiences and have come out stronger on the other side. What-Next is run by individuals who have either had cancer or supported someone with cancer.

We want you to know that you can overcome this challenge and live your best life along the way.

Want To Share Your Story?

If you're interested in being featured on our website, please don't hesitate to reach out to us at or by using our form.