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“Don’t gamble with your life by smoking.”  Warning from ex-smoker James Roberts, diagnosed with cancer of the vocal cord at 33 years old

A former smoker who was diagnosed with cancer is urging smokers across Humber, Coast and Vale to never give up quitting for the launch of a new 16 Cancers campaign.

Last summer after visiting his GP with a sore throat James Roberts, from Cottingham, was referred for a biopsy which revealed the devasting news that he had vocal cord cancer at just 33 years old.

“I just thought it was laryngitis as there was a lot going around but my voice was quite hoarse. Two weeks later I totally lost my voice. After having a biopsy, this is when I was diagnosed with cancer of the left vocal cord;” said 34 year old James who is married with a two-year-old daughter.

“My wife was with me when the Consultant told us the news and she broke down in tears, I think I was in deep shock. It wasn’t until later that it hit me. When I saw my daughter, I was thinking about cancer and whether or not I would be around to see her grow up.”

With smoking causing 14.7% of cancer cases  and 27% of all cancer deaths in England, it is estimated that smoking causes 44,100 new cases of cancer and over 36,600 deaths from cancer a year. For Humber, Coast and Vale between 2015-2017, around 9,134 people died as a result of smoking, that is around 3,045 people per year.

James’s warning on how smoking affected him and his family comes as the 16 Cancers campaign launches across Yorkshire with regional TV advertising from North of England Cancer Alliances and with a campaign on buses, radio and press advertising. Smokers can visit Quit16.co.uk to find tips to quit and details of local support.

Luckily for James, the consultant told him they had caught the cancer early and that the treatment pathway would aim to eradicate the cancer entirely.  

Mr Joseph Maung, Consultant ENT Surgeon, at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We’re seeing dramatic improvements in treatment for cancer, which is great news for patients like James.
 
“However, while cancer used to be considered an older person’s disease, we’re now seeing younger and younger patients and the prevalence of smoking in the younger generation could be responsible as we know there is a direct link between smoking and cancer.  
 
“There has never been a better time for you to stop smoking. No matter how young or old you are, stopping smoking is the best thing you can ever do for your health.”

Talking about his cancer treatment James said: “The treatment was tough, I had to have 20 radiotherapy sessions on my throat. It was unbearably painful, and I couldn’t eat solid food just liquid fortisip solutions, but I am thankfully now in remission. I have to have six weekly check-ups which involved have a small camera passed through your nose, it is not very pleasant, but a necessity I am happy to live with.”

If the cancer hadn’t been caught in the early stages James risked losing his vocal cords and his voice entirely, as a switchboard operator at a busy hospital this would have had devastating consequences for him and his family if he couldn’t work. 

“Seeing my wife so upset when I was diagnosed was heart-breaking and having a cancer diagnosis is life changing. The thought of my daughter never knowing the sound of my voice really upset me. Everyone thinks that getting cancer is something which happens in your late fifties/sixties, but you can get cancer at any age. When I was being treated I was the third youngest, with a 24-year-old and the youngest at 18 being treated with the same type of cancer. Don’t gamble with your life by smoking.”

On quitting smoking James said: “I believe that my cancer is strongly linked to my smoking. I have been a smoker since being 16 years of age, smoking 20 cigarettes a day. I tried to quit following my diagnosis but failed on my first attempt. However, I tried again and with the support of my local Smoke Free team I am now a former smoker. It wasn’t as hard as I thought, and I will never smoke again.”

Rebecca from the Stop Smoking Service which helped James quit said: “Stopping smoking is the best way to reduce your risk of being diagnosed with one of the 16 cancers associated with smoking. We often see people who are worried about stopping due to having struggled with quit attempts in the past after going cold turkey. However, it is never too late to stop and by accessing your local stop smoking service you are 4 times more likely to succeed with your quit.

“Not only will you be offered confidential support, motivation and a listening ear but also free Nicotine Replacement Therapy to help significantly ease those cravings that can make it so difficult to remain smokefree.

“Smoking related diseases including the 16 cancers are the biggest cause of preventable deaths in the region which could be avoided by stopping smoking at the earliest opportunity. No level of smoking is safe, and no one is immune from the risks associated with smoking, but everyone has the opportunity to access free support from ourselves.”

“I wish to thank everyone at the ENT and Oncology Centre at Castle Hill Hospital and the Health Trainers at Humber Teaching NHS Trust who have supported me throughout this journey,” said James who is now back at work on the switchboard.

Besides lung cancer, smoking also causes cancers of the mouth, nasal cavities, pharynx and larynx, stomach, kidney, bowel, liver, pancreas, cervix, bladder and ovaries, oesophagus and ureter, as well as myeloid leukaemia. There is also some evidence that smoking could cause breast cancer.

If you would like support to quit smoking then please visit www.Quit16.co.uk and www.readytostop.co.uk.

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