A man whose life has been touched by The Christie through a lifetime of cancer battles is taking on the Great North Run – wearing the giant radiotherapy mask he used through his treatment.
Richard Springett, who lives near Richmond in North Yorkshire, was first treated for a benign pheochromocytoma (a rare tumour that develops in the adrenal gland) in 1992. In 1998 he was referred to The Christie, a specialist cancer hospital in Manchester, and in 2000, he was successfully treated for a metastasised pheochromocytoma. Because of his history, Richard has continued to have regular scans at The Christie ever since, despite living and working in various parts of the country due to his job as a Social Services manager.
Richard, who lives with his partner Deborah, and has three grown-up daughters and three grandsons, was moving house with his family in March 2021 from Carmarthenshire to North Yorkshire, when he noticed a swelling in his neck.
Following various investigations and scans over a number of months, Richard was diagnosed with a tumour which had started in his tongue and spread to the adjacent lymph nodes and throat. Faced with needing 6 weeks of intensive radiotherapy, as well as a course of chemotherapy, there was only one place Richard considered having his treatment.
Richard, aged 58, said: “To receive another cancer diagnosis was a huge shock to me and my family, but even though I lived some distance away, there was no doubt in my mind where I wanted to be treated.”
Radiotherapy to the head and neck area can be a particularly difficult course of treatment due to the side effects it can cause. Patients wear a custom-made mask throughout the treatment to make sure they are in exactly the right place so only their tumour is targeted and not healthy surrounding tissues.
Richard had a course of 30 treatments over the 6 weeks, which caused great difficulty in his eating and swallowing, resulting in him losing 2 stone in weight. He also had 2 courses of chemotherapy at the same time.
Richard with his radiotherapy treatment mask
Richard explained: “The radiotherapy was a brutal treatment, and the mask was my armour to get through it. The consequences of my treatment have been extraordinarily difficult to manage, mostly due to not being able swallow foods or liquids without being in considerable pain. I still have problems now with crusty foods and still need to eat with a slurp of water after every mouth full.”
Always a keen runner, Richard has taken part in the Great North Run for the last 26 years – so he could think of no better event to work towards, although due to the fact he hasn’t been able to train properly yet, he sadly expects this time to be very slow as he may end up walking a lot of the course.
He added: “I’ve always been a keen runner and I have a very special relationship with the Great North Run – I even did the run on my own the year it didn’t happen due to COVID-19. I’ve not been able to train so far due to an injury, but I am going to do the event even if I have to walk all the way – I just won’t look at the time it takes me!
"I wanted to do something to mark everything I have been through this year with my treatment and raise awareness, so I hope running in my mask will attract some attention from the crowd. It is certainly going to be emotional wearing it again, but sharing my story in this way illustrates and indeed celebrates the good work of The Christie in keeping ordinary folk like myself well and alive. I was so moved and warmed by the kind care, consideration and professionalism of the radiotherapy team at The Christie, I’ll be proud to wear The Christie shirt and my mask.”
The Great North Run is a half marathon and takes place in Newcastle on Sunday 11 September 2022.