Richard's recovery after tonsil cancer

Friday 25 August 2023

Maggie's Edinburgh

I was at sea for many years where I achieved the rank of Captain. I'm retired now and I have just turned 70, become a grandfather and the sun is shining in the garden! Life feels very full and couldn’t be better. However, let’s turn the clock back to May

I discovered a small lump on my neck and made an appointment to see my GP in the village. The rest, as they say, is history.  

Tonsil cancer. It was like a smack in the teeth; my worst possible nightmare.

But what he said next was 'however, it's eminently treatable'. These are the words I hung on to right the way through. 

Two things I didn’t do: I didn’t go online to read about cancer and I didn’t ask too many questions so I wasn’t overwhelmed by too much information all at once.  

I would put my cancer treatment into three phases: chemotherapy, radiotherapy and recovery.

Beginning treatment

Chemotherapy began in August. I had this twice, for a week each time where I was hooked up 24/7. 

I found that after day three, a sort of fog descended on my brain. Everything slowed down, like I was swimming in jelly. 

Radiotherapy began in August. After week three, I started getting burns on my neck. I think cancer has the only treatments where you go in looking fairly normal and you come out the other end looking worse. I had to feed through a feeding tube from the fourth week, and for a few months after treatment until I was able to swallow.  

I was in survival mode; I was in the mental equivalent of the foetal position. I did what I was told.

I was so institutionalised in my routine, which was so important to me, that by the end it was difficult to let it go.  


Recovery began in December 2020, but you could say I am still going through it.

My treatment was successful but it took some time for me to process and believe this.  

I'm a classic (Yorkshire!) male. I get on with things, I don’t need help. I wasn’t realising how traumatic, how life-changing the whole process is.

I realised I wasn't functioning as I should; I felt I didn't want to go outside or deal with people. 

I had the feeding tube taken out after a year when I had gained enough weight. That was a big day for me.

You will never be what you were; that is one of the first things that I needed to realise.

I think the recovery in some ways is the most challenging part. This is where Maggie's comes in. 


After my treatment I was invited to a Wellbeing Clinic at Maggie’s, with clinicians and Maggie’s cancer specialists.

When I walked in the door, I was immediately struck by the environment. It was calm and peaceful not like the hospital. The focus was on me and how I felt rather than just how the treatment had gone.  

The way I was spoken to at Maggie’s helped me see that being there wasn’t a sign of weakness. I wasn’t going to be judged. 

The more I went, the easier it became to talk. 

The first course I was offered was 'Where Now?' I said ‘no thanks, I’m not a bare all sort of person’. But within five minutes of being in the first session, I understood it was a good thing to be there.

You see that you're not alone. That embodies Maggie's spirit.  

I also kept coming back because it's voluntary. You're summoned to treatment, your appointment is made for you. But here, you are walking in the door because you want to.

What I have learnt  

I learned that nobody else has the cure, you have it and you cure yourself, but you are given guidance to find it.  

Throughout all this my wife has been the rock that I have been clinging to. Maggie’s is there for her too, a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on and practical advice on how to cope with a grumpy old man, served with a cup of tea and a smile.  

When you walk through that door, it feels like a great big hug. When a dog shakes itself, it's getting rid of all its anxiety, it's the same feeling when you walk in the door. It's an exhale.  

I’ve learnt to never bottle things up. It’s so easy to do, but it does not help. Persevere, be open. At Maggie’s, you are helped to be open. It’s a safe, caring place to be able to talk.  

During treatment, life felt like it was in black and white, a totally sterile environment. Maggie's has helped me to see in colour again, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and there's laughter.

Here with you

If you, your family or friends need support during this time, please call us on 0300 123 180, email or book a time to visit us.

If you're already visiting the hospital, just come in.

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