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Help Jon access life-saving cancer treatment

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** Please read the latest updates for the most up-to-date news on my cancer journey! I am now in a different, in many ways better, situation than I was in May 2023 and have more options for treatment than when I wrote the below post. However, the future remains unclear and your donations are still gratefully received, given the high cost of all cancer treatments not available via the NHS. I am also now 35 (terrible). **

Hi! My name is Jon. I'm a 34-year-old writer and PR account manager living in east London. I’m also a husband, a son, a brother and a friend; a music nerd, history nut, motorsports fan and keen traveller; and a man in desperate need of expensive treatment for my aggressive, inoperable stage-four bowel cancer.

My story:
I was diagnosed with bowel/colorectal cancer in January 2022, aged 32, after two years of wrong diagnoses, delayed appointments and missed opportunities to deal with the disease before it metastasised (it's now also in my liver and lymph nodes).

I first went to the doctor with stomach complaints in January 2020, and after an abnormal blood test was referred for a colonoscopy. This was originally scheduled for March of that year, but the effective shutdown of the NHS to everyone but Covid patients meant the procedure was delayed until August. When they looked inside me, they found a large (pre-cancerous) polyp. I was told it was too big to remove there and then, but they'd book me in to have it taken out at the first opportunity.

Owing to two more lockdowns – and, as I discovered later, the fact the doctor who performed the colonoscopy marked the removal "NOT URGENT" – by late 2021 I still hadn't had the polyp removed. By this point, I was bleeding almost constantly and aware something was seriously wrong. After hassling the hospital for months on end to do something, I was finally admitted for the 'polyp' removal in December 2021, by which point it had progressed to cancer and spread to my liver.

Following an internal investigation, the hospital in question reviewed its practices and will in future treat all polyps as needing urgent removal, meaning – fingers crossed – no one else will end up in my situation unnecessarily.

I started treatment for my disease in February 2022: radiotherapy first, then chemotherapy. In July, I also had surgery to remove the right side of my liver. While the combination of chemotherapy and surgery seemed to be successful, my cancer is aggressive and grew back in my liver within a couple of months of being off chemo. For this reason, I have now been told no further surgery is possible.

This news was a huge blow to my family and I. We've always tried to stay positive that I could get through this and be in remission, even if only for a few years, but this door has been closed to us – my best option now, according to my oncologist, is to stay on chemotherapy indefinitely, even with all its side effects, and enjoy a much-reduced quality of life until it (inevitably) stops working in the months or years to come.

What my life is like now:
I take three chemotherapy drugs every other Monday – a fortnightly cycle that gives me two (or, if I’m lucky, three) days of feeling relatively normal just before I start the next dose. The rest of the time I am fatigued, nauseous and in constant pain, particularly in my guts; covered in spots and cracked, open skin (an easy way to end up in hospital with an infection – something I’ve already experienced); and unable to do any of the things I once took for granted.

As well as having to miss all kinds of social and family events (including weddings, family holidays and friends’ stag dos), I’ve been forced to put my own family plans on an indefinite hold – with no end in sight to the chemo, my young wife and I are going to miss out on the chance for a family of our own.

I refuse to accept that this is the only life I have left. I am young, recently married, otherwise healthy, and a victim of mistakes by the same health service which now refuses me further treatment. I have to believe I can still be cured, and I owe it to my loved ones to do everything I can to get there.

How your donation will help:
Although it's costly and not available on the NHS (or even in the UK), there is another option. A friend of mine with the same diagnosis told me about cancer vaccines (also called dendritic cell therapy), which help your body's immune system recognise and attack cancer cells. Having also been refused further surgery, she raised the money to travel to Germany to have this treatment – and it's working. Her healthy cells are now attacking the cancer cells and it looks like she could be cured.

It's a miracle treatment: one that could allow me to once again live a ‘normal’ life, able to participate in the things – and make the kind of plans for the future – you expect to be able to in your early 30s.

When I asked my doctor in the UK, he told me, frankly, that dendritic vaccines are the future of cancer care. Unfortunately, such personalised treatments are still decades away from being on the NHS.

They are currently only available privately and only in Germany, and are way out of my price range: £50,000 is a conservative estimate for the consultations, the creation of the vaccines, and the vaccines themselves (initially four), and that's only for the first round of jabs. Novel treatments like dendritic cell therapy, which has a success rate of 60% for stage-four cancers, are now my only hope of being cured – but it will take the kindness of strangers to help me be able to afford it.

This is my first-ever GoFundMe, so I hope I've included everything you need to know, but if you have any suggestions or questions please let me know. If you're not already completely bored, you can also read an article I wrote for IQ, a magazine I used to work for, about my journey so far and my tips for people who are going through something similar.

Thanks for reading,

Jon
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Jonathan Chapple
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England
Nikki Gardham
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Laura Chapple
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