When 57-year-old Graham Wilkinson, a retired firefighter, first started feeling “severely fatigued” two years ago he went to the doctors to find out what was wrong.
After a series of tests Graham, from Doncaster, was told that he was anaemic and was prescribed iron tablets to take – which he continued to take until earlier this year, before he began to feel so unwell that he became practically “bedbound”.
Yorkshire Live reports that after seeing the doctor, he was sent to hospital with suspected internal bleeding, and it was there that doctors discovered that he had a 22cm gastrointestinal stromal tumour – an incredibly rare cancerous tumour – in his abdomen.
Grahams daughter Francesca, 20, who is fundraising for GIST Cancer Charity UK, said: “When my dad was taken to hospital he had loads of scans and tests and they found a massive tumour, about 22cm, in his abdomen.
“Doctors said it would’ve been growing for at least two years – which fits in with the anaemia diagnosis. They even said, ‘If he went to the doctors we could’ve caught it sooner’, but we told them we did go to the doctors.
“It was just a complete shock to us all, it was a shock that he was even in hospital as he’s never ill.
“When he heard about the tumour, it was heart breaking. It didn’t seem true.
“You read about stories like that, but you never think it’ll happen to you.
“It feels like the world just crumbles around you.”
It was in July this year that Graham’s health took a serious turn for the worst.
Francesca said: “My dad became so unwell he was bedbound, he felt like death. It was as though he was hungover but 10 times worse.
“He said everything ached and he was really tired and couldn’t get up.”
Graham saw a doctor who suspected he may have internal bleeding and he was sent to A&E.
It was there that doctors found he had a stomach infection, but after further tests and scans, it was found that Graham’s diagnosis was much more serious than a simple infection.
“They found a massive 22cm tumour in his abdomen,” Francesca said.
After a week in hospital Graham’s health quickly deteriorated and so, he was transferred to Sheffield Northern General Hospital for the emergency operation to remove the tumour.
However, Graham was only given a 50 per cent chance of survival.
So, Francesca, her mum Louise, brother Ben and sister Jess said their goodbyes.
“It was so hard to say our goodbyes because we were told it was a very risky operation,” Francesca said.
Thankfully the eight-hour operation was a success – and the surgeon managed to remove the majority of the tumour.
After weeks of recovering in hospital, which Francesca says were “hellish” for her dad, Graham was allowed to return home.
But tragically, parts of the tumour had spread to his liver and near to his kidney – which tragically cannot be removed.
The family have been told that devastatingly Graham will never be cancer free – but he has recently started taking an oral form of chemotherapy to try and stop the tumour from growing.
“To me it’s just mind-blowing,” Francesca said. “My dad’s an ex-firefighter so he’s always been fit and healthy.
“To see him in hospital and so weak, it was a shock.
“It’s been a big reality check, it makes you appreciate everything so much more and not to take things for granted.
“But you only realise it when it happens to you.”
Since Graham’s diagnosis the entire family have rallied together to support him.
“My mum has been absolutely amazing, she’s been my dad’s full-time carer, and he wouldn’t of been able to get through it without her,” Francesca said.
“My dad is originally from Liverpool, and since this has happened we’ve seen all are family from up there and my brother and sister come round every week.
“It’s been so great to see everyone so much.”
While the family live in hope that the chemotherapy tablets will stop the tumours from growing, Francesca wants to do all that she can to raise awareness for gastrointestinal stromal tumour.
“This type of cancer is so rare there is only one charity for it in the world,” Francesca said. “So all donations will be made on behalf of my dad.
“My dad is so proud of me for doing it, he can’t believe how much we’ve raised already. He’s not my biological dad, but we’re the absolute closest, so so close. He’s more of a dad than anyone to me.
“He raised me up and he’s just the best, everyone loves him.
“He’s just a lovely man and we get along amazingly. And he’s been amazing through all of this.”
So far, Francesca has raised £2,400 for GIST Cancer Charity UK but she wants to raise as much as she possibly can as well as spread awareness for gastrointestinal stromal tumours.
“If anyone has any symptoms make sure you push to get tests,” she said.
“Life is so precious, and we’ve got the NHS to help. But you need to push if you think something is seriously wrong. If we did, maybe we would’ve found it sooner.
“This has made me realise not to take life for granted, and one thing I would say is to never take your family or life for granted and cherish every moment possible.
“Live life with no regrets.”
To donate to the GoFundMe campaign click here.