An MP who says he is only alive thanks to a “toss of a coin”, after suffering advanced cancer of oesophagus, is appealing for a government-backed drive to increase early diagnosis of the often terminal disease.
Mike Weatherley, who has decided to step down at the election, has been cancer-free since an operation three years ago to remove his gullet and part of his stomach.
He admitted the fact that only 14 per cent of people who contract oesophageal cancer are alive five years later – a lower proportion than in many other European countries – gives him the “heebie-jeebies”.
Today the Conservative MP will use a parliamentary debate to tell the Commons of his experience of the disease and to urge action to improve Britain’s poor survival rate.
Mr Weatherley’s case started after he suffered heartburn, which he initially attributed to the unhealthy parliamentary lifestyle, and began vomiting after meals. He was eventually underwent major surgery in April 2012 after the diagnosis of stage three cancer, its second most advanced level.
“They said if I had waited until the summer, if it had just been another two or three months to have the operation, I would have been dead by the Christmas,” he told The Independent. “In my case, we are talking about two and three months being the difference between living and dying. That sobers you up quite a bit in life. It was like: ‘wow, that close’.”
Partly as a result of his brush with cancer, he announced last year he would not stand again as MP for Hove, telling David Cameron it was “the toughest decision of my life but I do feel now is the time to move on”.
Mr Weatherley, 57, explained his family had urged him to take a job that meant he spent less time away. That is likely to mean resuming a career in the film industry after 7 May.
Until he announced his resignation, he had told only close family and friends about his condition because he not want to appear to be seeking sympathy. Now he is determined to use his last few weeks in the Commons to raise awareness of Britain’s eighth most common cancer, contracted by 8,500 people a year.
“When you’re told you have stage three cancer, you can’t explain just how bad that feels. At that point, it’s a toss of a coin, you can die very soon – the emotions as you can imagine are huge – and to survive is something I feel very lucky to have done. I feel I want more people to survive, hence the reason for the debate.”
His main message is that consultants need extra resources to spend more time with patients and spot signs of the disease earlier. He will also press for a publicity campaign to raise awareness.
“I’m now on to the six-month check-up because they haven’t found any recurrence, they always say you are in remission rather than completely cured, you don’t know when you are going to get it back,” he said.
“But I look like being one of the lucky ones. I still eat slower than everybody else and my energy levels are probably a little bit lower than everyone else’s, but basically I’m very lucky in that I survived through it.”
The one-year survival rate in England is 42 per cent, falling to 14 per cent for five years. The levels are very low compared with other cancers, such as breast and prostate, partly because it’s often not diagnosed until an advanced stage. It often manifests itself with vague symptoms including swallowing difficulties, persistent coughing and constant indigestion.Reuse content