How three small words changed my life forever

Chris Curtis, founder of The Swallows Head and Neck Cancer Support Group

19th April 2019

Chris Curtis, founder of The Swallows Head and Neck Cancer Support Group, discusses how his life changed for the better after his diagnosis of oral cancer.

“You have cancer.” Friday 13th May 2011 at 11am my life fell apart. Three words that changed my life forever. A treatment plan was currently being discussed with me, but I couldn’t stop thinking “I am going to die”. Every piece of information I was given during this appointment went over my head and my mind had gone blank with shock.

My treatment started the following week after my diagnosis, which included radiotherapy, chemotherapy, peg feed and two neck dissections. I lost 12 stone during this time and not only did my body physically change, I mentally changed too. I spiralled into a depression which affected the relationships with those closest to me; my wife Sharon, my two children and my two step children. I hadn’t been re-married long and before the diagnosis I was enjoying my new life and had been making plans for our future. But I couldn’t think to the future during my treatment, I’d lost all positivity and had started to lose hope. To help me get over the depression, or my ‘Cancer Bubble’ as Sharon called it, she suggested I got involved in a Support Group and use my sales & marketing skills to help them develop. So, in November 2011, I joined the group.

Being around others that shared my experience and understood my pain meant that we could heal together. The group brought my positivity back and offered me a new lease of life. I knew I wanted to help others who feel lonely, isolated and scared, to feel that they are part of a community of people that understand.

By November 2012, with the help of my skills in sales and marketing from my previous career, I helped the group develop and built it from a support group, up to full charity status. We have since helped over 6,500 like-minded people and communities worldwide going through the same experiences that I personally went through. The charity helps patients and carers across the globe by supporting them through their journeys, as well as offering a 24/7 helpline for patients and carers to use for advice and round the clock support. We also run a charity shop in Blackpool where the charity was founded. The shop is at the heart of the charity, run by a great team of volunteers and managed by our dedicated manager Anne Nyland.

Having a strong support system around you whilst undergoing treatment is so important as it is these people that help you to stay strong throughout the cancer journey. Living with, and beyond cancer is very hard but once you embrace and understand the side effects that really affect your day-to-day life such as dry mouth, anxiety, weakness, tiredness etc. you can then look to plan and start to dream again. My dream is to help tomorrow’s patient and ensure his/her journey is better than today’s.

You hear the word cancer and you assume the worst, but it wasn’t the worst. I thought my life was going to end, but in fact I think being diagnosed with cancer was the best thing that happened to me, as it has changed my life for the better. My life is now about splitting my time between being the chairman of the Swallows Charity and World Cancer Patient Advocate.

The support the charity receives from our partners is what helps us to continue our hard work. They have supported us on several events, projects and introduced us to some leading health professionals in the world to allow us to spread the support and awareness throughout the globe.

On Friday 7th April 2017, I attended my review appointment at Blackpool Oncologist Hospital and was fully discharged by the wonderful Mr Nigam, my Oncologist Surgeon, and now class myself as a H&N Cancer Survivor.


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