Two Manchester dads with cancer urge others to quit smoking
Father of five Ian Gresty and his dear friend Neville Drinkwater have shared their stories as part of the Never Quit Quitting campaign to urge smokers in Greater Manchester to quit before it's too late.
The Never Quit Quitting campaign, which launched on Monday 16 August across Greater Manchester, centres on the compelling experiences of former smokers.
Father-of-five Ian Gresty, aged 59 from Gorton, Manchester, made the decision to quit smoking after being diagnosed with three different types of cancer – lung, throat and brain.
Ian smoked for more than 40 years, but has successfully stopped smoking with the dedicated support of the stop smoking service at The Christie.
Ian said: “I started smoking when I was 15 as everyone smoked back then, and I never thought about the impact that it would have on my health. I quickly became addicted as I smoked constantly.
“Looking back, I would class myself as a heavy smoker. I used to smoke 40 to 50 cigarettes a day, sometimes it was purely down to boredom.
“My wife smoked too, so it was part of our everyday lives. I play snooker, and I smoked while socialising with my friends.
“It wasn’t until one day at work in early 2017 when I spat up some blood that I began to think about my health. Initially, my GP thought I had an infection and gave me some antibiotics, which seemed to work. But it happened again, so I had some blood tests done.
“My GP got in touch to say there was something wrong with my blood test results and I needed further tests, so I was referred to the Manchester Royal where I underwent a series of tests and scans.
“They found a cloud on one of my lungs, so I had a CT scan and they then informed me that they thought the cancer had spread to my throat, so I had an urgent biopsy which unfortunately confirmed my diagnosis.
“It was a huge shock, as I’d had no other symptoms apart from spitting up blood.”
Ian, who has been married for 37 years, was referred to The Christie in September 2017 for specialist treatment as he was initially given three months to live.
“The team at The Christie were brilliant, they have supported me and my family over the past few years. I don’t know how we would have coped without them. I also met one of my best friends, Neville, on Ward 12 at The Christie and we see each other every day as we live near to each other.
“Due to my initial diagnosis, I was offered a place on a clinical trial for a new treatment, but after having further tests my consultant gave me the devastating news that my cancer had spread further – into my brain.
“Finding out I was terminally ill was heartbreaking, especially for my wife and five children who have been amazing throughout all of this. I was allowed to go ahead with the trial, but was advised to stop in early 2020. Then the pandemic hit, but I still have regular scans, blood tests and check-ups.
“Even though I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I found it really difficult to quit smoking. I knew smoking was a contributing factor, but the stress of the diagnosis made it hard at first.
“I got support from Charlotte in the stop smoking service at The Christie, which really helped. I wasn’t able to smoke when I received my treatment, so that made it easier to stop as I had already cut down.
“I also used an e-cigarette and went out with my friends who didn’t smoke, as being surrounded my people who were non-smokers helped me take my mind off it. I’ve now been smoke-free for nine months, and I’m really proud of myself.”
Before my cancer diagnosis, I was known for my cough. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the cancer creeping in.
When Ian’s dear friend Neville Drinkwater, aged 58 started smoking at the age of 20, he never could have imagined that 35 years later, he would need to be brought back to life on the operating table after undergoing surgery for throat cancer.
Neville’s brush with death was the wake-up call he needed to quit, and he hasn’t touched a single cigarette since that traumatic day in June 2018.
Father-of-four Neville said: “Before my cancer diagnosis, I was known for my cough. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the cancer creeping in.
“I used to drive a minibus taking autistic children to school, I loved it and found it so rewarding. In 2018, I started to feel more tired and my tongue was swollen – like the pictures you see on cigarette packets.
“When I went to the doctor, they knew something was wrong and fast-tracked me to the cancer unit at Manchester Royal.
“After undergoing tests, I was diagnosed with throat cancer and needed surgery to remove the cancer. While I was under anaesthetic my lung collapsed and my heart stopped. They had to bring me back to life.
“The hospital team had to perform an emergency tracheostomy, where my throat was cut to urgently get oxygen to me. It saved my life.
“I was put into a medically induced coma and when I woke up in intensive care, I had missed a full day and didn’t realise what had just happened.
“That was the turning point, smoking nearly took me away from my children and grandchildren, and I knew I’d never touch a cigarette again.”
Neville spent two weeks at the Royal and six weeks at The Christie, where he went through intensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat the cancer.
“Thankfully I’m now in remission, but I am still in pain every day,” Neville explained.
“I have emphysema in my left lung and I get out of breath so easily. I see other people my age running around with their grandkids and going to the gym, I can’t do any of that.
“At night-time, I have to use something called a CPAP machine, because I stop breathing over 40 times every hour.
“The side effects of my treatment mean I have to take strong pain relief because I feel like my mouth is on fire all of the time. I get a dry mouth, so I’m constantly drinking water to soothe it.
“When I eat, I can’t swallow properly. If someone could experience 24 hours with the pain I go through, they’d never touch a cigarette.
“Now, I tell everyone I can about my experiences in the hope it will stop someone else having to go through it. I show them the scar on my throat and say: “Look at what smoking did to me. I spent thousands of pounds and where did it get me? I almost died.”
“The tobacco industry is making billions out of people’s misery. It’s not right. I get a bit depressed about things sometimes. I can’t work anymore and I miss it. I’m going through all this because of smoking.
“I’m still here though, and I’m thankful every day. Everyone who took care of me from the NHS team in Manchester has been brilliant.
“The support I got from Charlotte in the stop smoking service team at The Christie has really helped me, and gave me an extra boost. For me, it was psychological. I was gone on that operating table, I don’t want to go through that again. I want to give myself the best chance.
“My family and friends are pleased I’ve quit smoking. My youngest son is off to university in September, so I’ve been helping him get ready for that and keeping myself busy. My friend Ian who I met at The Christie has been a big support, we help each other out.
“It’s always going to be a struggle for me living with emphysema and the effects of smoking. I want to warn people about the addiction in the hope it’ll help someone stop today.”
Find details of local stop smoking services and support across all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester, or call the NHS Stop Smoking helpline free on 0300 123 1044.