Bowel cancer symptoms: Fit and healthy dad diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer reveals first warning sign
A fit and healthy father diagnosed with stage four Cancer says he was left looking like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” after a horrific reaction to chemotherapy left him too embarrassed to attend his young son’s cricket matches – and is now hoping to save his life with a breakthrough vaccine.
Geoffrey Seymour, 41, a procurement specialist, loved to play tennis, basketball and cricket and was always healthy until shortly before his 41st birthday when he started to notice blood in his stool.
Geoffrey was aware this is a symptom of cancer from commercials on television, so he quickly went to his general practitioner.
Geoffrey, who lives in Richmond, London, with his wife Santa, 44, and their son Marc, 10, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, which had spread from his colon to his liver – a situation so difficult and seemingly hopeless that compared it to “being wrapped in a burning paper bag”.
He also had a bad reaction to chemotherapy that caused the skin on his face to pop and, according to Geoffrey, made him look like Freddy Krueger from the 1984 horror film. Nightmare on Elm Street.
However, the chemotherapy stopped working and now, in an attempt to save his life, Geoffrey traveled to Germany for dendritic cell therapy – where a personalized vaccine is created in the laboratory with the aim of stimulating the immune system.
Research into this area is at an early stage, according to Cancer Research UK, so the treatment has not been cheap – just one injection in Germany, on October 17, cost £17,000, and Geoffrey is now waiting to see if it was enough to help him, continuing to raise funds to pay.
He said: “I couldn’t even wait until the end of the fundraiser to do it just because I’m so worried about the disease spreading.”
Geoffrey was determined to find a new approach after three sessions of five doses of chemotherapy failed to work and left him with side effects so bad he no longer wanted to go out in public, not even to see his little boy playing cricket
“I had a really bad reaction on my face, there were a lot of painful blisters that made my face feel like it was on fire,” he said.
“I just got to the point where I looked a bit like A Nightmare on Elm Street. Unless I went there with a bag over my head, other people would come up to me and look at me thinking, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’ when I’m perfectly happy blending in with the crowd.”
Geoffrey’s ordeal began in April 2021, just two weeks before his 41st birthday on March 4, when he got the first warning signs of cancer.
After noticing blood in his stool, Geoffrey decided to see a GP because he knew it could be a symptom of cancer. And at the end of March, at Kingston Hospital, he was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer, which had metastasized in the liver.
After his diagnosis, in March 2021, he had five cycles of chemotherapy every three weeks which initially reduced the lesions on his liver. At this point, he says he was feeling “optimistic.”
In December 2021, he had surgery to remove a third of his liver, and the medical team began preparing him for radiotherapy to be used on his colon – even getting radio markers tattooed for laser alignment.
A month later, the scan showed more tumors on the liver, so he had another round of chemotherapy. This time it was successful and the liver surgery is scheduled for June 2022.
But just when things were looking better, a scan a few weeks before the surgery revealed the progression of the disease. Geoffrey was put back on chemotherapy with a different agent and the surgery was cancelled.
After just two cycles, blood work and scans showed the disease had progressed again, all while the side effects were becoming unbearable for Geoffrey.
He said: “The side effects were getting worse, worse, worse and now the chemotherapy is just not effective anymore, the body has got used to it.”
Explaining why he reacted badly to the chemotherapy drug, he said: “Essentially it kills all your fast-growing cells, which includes cancer cells, but also your hair and nails. I had a really bad reaction to it in my face.”
Determined to find an alternative, Geoffrey began doing his own research by searching the internet and found dendritic cell therapy, but was told it would not be available to him in the UK.
He decided to fly to a laboratory in Ulm, Germany for a week’s treatment on 17 October 2022. Friends and family rallied to contribute to his Go Fund Me appeal, which raised more than £14,000 and helped pay for £17,000 of injections.
“I’m still in pain, I’m in a lot of pain, so I’m trying to find a good balance between very strong medications,” he said.
Geoffrey is due to meet his oncologist on November 1 in the UK but knows he may have to pay for extra doses of vaccine and more treatment abroad and is continuing to fundraise to pay for it.
Cancer Information Specialist Nurse at Cancer Research UK Caroline Geraghty said: “Dendritic cell therapy is a type of vaccine that can treat cancer. Dendritic cells help the immune system recognize and attack abnormal cells, such as cancer cells.
“To make a vaccine, scientists grow dendritic cells in the laboratory alongside cancer cells. The vaccine then stimulates your immune system to attack the cancer. It is still being researched, so the evidence base is not yet strong enough to be available in the UK.
“Decisions about the best course of treatment must be based on strong evidence of benefit – so it’s important that patients talk to their doctor about any alternative treatment they might be considering.”
She added: “Thanks to the constant development of research, there are still many new anti-cancer drugs showing efficacy in clinical trials, providing potential options for cancer patients.
“But while regulators have improved the speed at which they are assessed for routine NHS use, there are still, unfortunately, times when certain medicines are not yet readily available to people who could benefit. We understand how frustrating that can be.”