Published on 29 November 2019
A year ago, Neil Rankin was told he’d be lucky to see Christmas.
But more than 12 months on, he has enjoyed a Norwegian cruise, a holiday in the Dordogne and day trips to France, and is planning a family trip to Center Parcs – not bad for a man with inoperable, terminal lung cancer.
In fact, last year’s diagnosis was the second time Neil had been told he had lung cancer, and he had a third of his right lung removed in 2017.
The latest tumour is a completely different type of cancer, unrelated to the first, but thanks to treatment at East Kent Hospitals he is able to carry on living his life and enjoying time with his grandchildren.
Neil, 65, who lives in Whitfield, near Dover, said: “When I saw Dr Mathilda Cominos in November last year, the whole family were with me.
“I knew I was on the way out, she just confirmed what I felt. She told me that without treatment she’d be surprised if I saw Christmas.
“But it wasn’t over, and the team worked very quickly to get me into chemo and then radiotherapy.
“I feel very fortunate now, to have had such fantastic treatment and to be here, living with cancer. I’ve met people with cancer who are still here five or six years later, and one woman even 14 years on.
“I’m open-minded; who knows, I might last another five or even 10 years.”
Neil, who worked as a driver for P&O before he became ill, was first diagnosed with cancer in 2017 – after being treated for a stomach problem.
A scan revealed an issue with his right lung and the top third was removed in an operation at Guys Hospital in London in July 2017.
The operation removed all of the tumour but Neil was also treated with chemotherapy in case there were any dormant cancer cells left.
He said: “That diagnosis came as a shock – I wasn’t in any pain, I had no symptoms and I had no idea I had cancer.
“The pain after the operation was like nothing else, and I’m a tough rugby bloke. But I still managed to walk to the station and get the train back to Kent because I didn’t want to waste my return ticket!”
Neil was initially reluctant to have chemotherapy but was persuaded by his wife Jan, who sat with him for most of the six 10-hour sessions.
He said: “I hate needles but the staff were brilliant and we always had a good laugh. I would always have family with me but I would look around the ward and a lot of people had no one so I realised how lucky I was.
“My phone never stopped, with texts from my rugby club friends, colleagues and family. I answered every single text, even though it took hours.
“I found it quite emotional to receive so many good wishes.”
He was given the all clear at the beginning of 2018 but medics spotted a potential problem during a routine check later that year.
Neil said: “They thought it was a shadow from a rib so I thought nothing of it. After all, who gets cancer twice?
“Jan and I were in London having lunch with a friend when my phone kept ringing and eventually she told me to answer it, so I did.
“It was my cancer nurse Toni, and she said they thought it was more than just a shadow.”
Tests revealed it was a new cancer, more aggressive than the first, and Neil began to feel ill.
He said: “I knew I was in the right hands. I breezed the chemo again but radiotherapy was a different ball game.
“I had to have it on my lung and my brain because it travels, and I was ill afterwards for weeks, unable to eat or drink properly.
“But now I am eating well and getting on with my life, living with cancer. I go to the Pilgrims Hospices outreach sessions at Dover and they have been good to me. My initial impression of a hospice was that you go in and don’t come out, but that couldn’t be further from the truth for me.
“I have had counselling, I have massages there, attend family-friendly days and I’ve met other people living with cancer.
“Now if I can give people hope that hearing the word cancer doesn’t have to mean the end, then that’s what I want to do.”
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and experts want to raise awareness of symptoms and when to get help.
Anyone can get lung cancer, young or old, smokers and non-smokers. If you have a persistent cough for three weeks or more, breathlessness, repeated chest infections, chest or shoulder pain, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss, or are coughing up blood, see your GP for advice.
More information on the symptoms to watch out for is available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lung-cancer/