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.
When Neville Drinkwater from Gorton, Manchester, started smoking aged 20, he had no idea that 35 years later he would need to be brought back to life on the operating table after undergoing surgery for throat cancer. It was the wake-up call he needed to quit, and he hasn’t touched a cigarette since that traumatic day in June 2018.
Thankfully I’m now in remission, but I am still in pain every day. 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.
The 58-year-old dad of four, 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. 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.”