Facing life’s challenges

When Neil Tookey was told he had cancer it was as though time stood still. But five years on and in remission, he’s giving back to the hospital that helped save him.

Neil, second from right, with friends, all sporting moustaches, celebrating the end of their 10K run
Neil, second from right, with friends, all sporting moustaches, celebrating the end of their 10K run

Neil's story

‘The moment I was told I had testicular cancer, still feels like yesterday. It’s not something you can forget in a hurry,’ says 36-year-old cancer survivor, Neil Tookey.

‘I didn’t have a blatantly obvious sign, but one of my testicles felt heavy - like a ball within a ball - but it still took me three to four weeks to pluck up the courage to go to the doctor’s surgery.’

In December 2013, just days before his 31st birthday, he was given the news he had cancer. He needed an operation to remove the testicle that was hosting a 4.5-inch tumour.

‘I suddenly didn’t feel invincible anymore. I was asking myself: “will I survive?”, “will I be able to have children still?”, “will it affect my relationship?”, and “what about work?”’ he says.

Within days, Neil was having the operation.

The doctor told him the surgery was just like having your appendix out. But Neil remembers thinking “are you having a laugh? I’m losing one of my soldiers here!”

‘Thankfully, my oncologist at Guy’s Hospital was a hero.’
‘The team helped me so much along this journey, and I put my faith in their professional advice.’

The oncology team were very straight up with the statistics – a 20% chance of the cancer returning after the surgery – and took time to explain all of Neil’s options. Together they decided it was unnecessary to put Neil through follow up radiotherapy or chemotherapy, opting for regular check-ups instead.

‘The hardest bit was the waiting game,’ says Neil.

But on Christmas Eve that year, he received the best present he could have asked for: news his operation had been a success and the cancer hadn’t spread. No further treatment was necessary.

Neil was still in shock since it had all unfolded within a matter of weeks, but he spent that Christmas celebrating with his family.

Afterwards, Neil struggled to come to terms with what happened. But with professional support, Neil’s in a much better place, now nearly seven years on.

‘The after care at Guy’s is top of the league,’ he says.
‘I’ve learnt to appreciate every single day and the smaller things in life more - like spending time with my supportive wife Beth and son, Tommy.’

Giving back to the team that saved him physically and mentally

‘I really do feel lucky to have had the brilliant treatment and positive team from Guy’s Hospital, which is why I decided to give back,’ he says.
‘Life set me my biggest challenge of beating cancer back in 2013. After I overcame it, I decided to set myself a few challenges of my own.’

In September 2019, Neil gave up alcohol for the month, followed by sugar in October.

‘Anyone who knows me knows I love a party, a few tipples and chocolate, so this really tested me,’ he says.

‘But in the grand scheme of things, what’s a month of no alcohol and treats when you’re doing it to help people battle life-threatening illnesses?’

Then in November, he took part in a 10K run around Greenwich Park and rocked a moustache for 30 days in support of the Movember Foundation’s work to raise awareness of men’s health issues including testicular cancer.

‘It was great fun doing it with people from work, but tough on those Greenwich hills,’ he says.

His friends and family members sponsored him for his efforts and in total he raised a huge £1,040 for Guy’s and St Thomas’ charity.

Neil hopes the money will continue to support the hospital, which will help others like him get the advice and help they need after being diagnosed.

But he also hopes his charity work will raise awareness of testicular cancer.

‘All too often men ignore the symptoms, but the sooner you get help, the better your chances are,’ he says.

If Guy’s and St Thomas’ helped you, a friend or family member, why not start your own inspirational fundraising story? Find out more here.