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John's become a DVD star to spread message on cancer.


A BRAVE grandad has told how the love and support of his wife, Kathleen and four grandchildren helped him battle cancer - and gave him the strength to help other sufferers.

John O'Neill, of South Bank, Middlesbrough, was diagnosed with throat cancer just before Christmas in 2005 and underwent surgery to remove his voice box the following January.

The 60-year-old, who speaks with an artificial voice box, is now recovering from a further tumour in his neck, which was diagnosed in 2007.

But the regular check ups he still endures haven't stopped him getting involved with a new training DVD aimed at encouraging earlier diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancer, which has been launched by The Look A Head Cancer Campaign.

More than 500 health professionals are set to benefit from the DVD training package, which was launched at one of four special briefing sessions in Darlington.

The training DVD, featuring John talking about his own experience, will be rolled out across the rest of the North-east next year.

John, who lost his father to throat cancer in 2000, frankly admits to "burying his head in the sand" when he first began displaying symptoms. He said: "You tend to think it will go away. I was suffering from hoarseness when speaking and it was sometimes difficult to talk.

"It got progressively worse over a few months, then an occupational health nurse at work suggested I go and see a GP."

John, who works in maintenance reliability at Vertellus in Seal Sands, was then given the devastating news, but was more concerned about the impact on his family.

He said: "I had been through the experience with my father and had an inside knowledge of what could happen.

"I wasn't concerned about myself, I was thinking, 'what will my wife do? What about my grandchildren?'" John's knowledge of his father's condition led him to take the radical option of surgery to remove his voice box over radiotherapy.

"If the radiotherapy had been unsuccessful, the option of surgery may not have been there anymore," he said.

"Once I'd decided to go for the surgery I did think positively. I thought, 'I've got my wife and my grandchildren who I absolutely adore. This isn't going to beat me.'" After the surgery, further investigation of the tissues that were removed showed radiotherapy probably wouldn't have resolved the issue. "I was quite fortunate I made the right decision," said John.

John, a dad to Patrick, 40, and Marie, 39, had to learn to speak again with the support of speech therapists at James Cook University Hospital and Macmillan Cancer Nurses who John described as "magnificent" in also supporting Kathleen through the most stressful of times.

It took six to 10 weeks for the grandad-offour to utter his first word after the first operation. After a further operation in September 2007 to remove a tumour on his neck, John proved such an inspiration with his positive outlook, Macmillan Nurse Sharon Rhys and speech therapist Pauline Sturdy got him talking to other patients about his own experience. This also led to his involvement with the DVD.

John said: "I don't believe the public are generally aware of the symptoms of head and neck cancer. The DVD will be a training tool is for all healthcare workers such as occupational health people, nursing staff and dentists so if someone says, 'I've had a sore throat for six weeks,' they can maybe point them in the right direction."

Cancer survivor Vanessa Price, 42, also features in the DVD and will also star as one of the models in The Celebration of Life After Cancer Fashion Show at Tall Trees hotel in Yarm later this month.

The mum-of-two, from Richmond, battled cancer of the jaw eight years ago and hopes to be given the all clear in 18 months' time.

She said: "I was diagnosed the week of my 34th birthday. I had a two-week old baby and a five-year-old. Every single model at the fashion show has had some form of cancer but the message is that cancer doesn't have to kill you."

* The fashion show takes place at Tall Trees, Yarm, on October 13 and 14. Tickets are pounds 10 from the Gazette offices on Borough Road, Middlesbrough; Barkers in Northallerton or from Mary Lee on 01642 712555. Visit for details.

What to look out for HERE are the symptoms of head and neck cancer.

* A lump in the neck.

If you have any of the following which last for more than four weeks, see your doctor or dentist without delay, but remember, these symptoms could have other causes. You can reduce your risk of head and neck cancers by: * Not smoking. * Drinking alcohol only in moderation, if at all. Smoking and drinking pose a particular risk.

* Hoarseness * Pain or discomfort in the throat. * An ulcer on the tongue or another part of the mouth. * Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

* A lump or white patch in the mouth. * Painful or difficult swallowing. * Visiting your dentist at least once a year for a dental and oral health check. * For more information, visit


DIAGNOSIS HOPES: John, pictured with wife Kathleen, left, is appearing alongside Vanessa Price, pictured below with daughter Lydia, in a training DVD to highlight the symptoms of head and neck cancers, which you can see on Pictures by PETER REIMANN and IAN McINTYRE I thought, 'I've got my wife and my grandchildren who I absolutely adore. This isn't going to beat me John O'Neill, pictured left with his grandaughters Laura 17, on the right, and Melissa
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 9, 2009
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