Anthony Grills writes in his own words about the shock of being diagnosed with cancer, the rigours of 14 months and the determination to stay alive for his family.

ON March 18, 2012 while sat in a small dark room on the haematology ward at Barnstaple Hospital I was informed that I had an aggressive form of lymphoblastic T cell lymphoma (cancer) and that if I didn’t start the protocol intensive chemo treatment plan for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia a very rapid death was on its way.

It fact the battle of all battles to stay alive had already started without me knowing...

The ‘big C’ had not only come knocking on my door, but it had smashed the doors off its hinges, life had just changed for ever.

This couldn’t have happened at a worst time, not that there’s a good one. My brother had only just completed treatment for a brain tumour which consisted of two life threatening operations, my mum was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and was due a month of intense treatment, and my dear gramps had sadly passed away the same week after a brave battle of his own against cancer.

The wheels had come off...

I was a 34-year-old dad of two (aged five and one) living with my partner of 18 years Louise.

Life was good, I worked hard and played hard. I ran my own construction company which was growing rapidly.

And then boom, the wheels of life came off.

Living with an aggressive cancer is like being sentenced to the death penalty for a crime I simply didn’t commit. It’s truly gut wrenching.

One day at a time

Never once did I ever think that I couldn’t do this battle. In a weird way my mind was telling me that I had been in training for this treatment path for years. Pain is temporary, as long as you control the mind the battle is half won.

I put all my trust into my consultant, I didn’t read the internet or read the numerous leaflets about side effects, etc, I just turned up where and when I was told and got on with it.

I knew this battle would last for months so I just took it one day at a time.

Dying is easy

I’m a very black and white kind of person, and it was clear in my mind from the off. Dying is the easy part, in my eyes you just go to sleep and never wake up!

The hard part is for those left behind. I was happy that my partner would rebuild her life in time, as she was such a loving and caring person.

My little boy was only one, so I thought that he wouldn’t know too much about it, he’d grow up with a picture of me in his wallet, I just prayed that he wouldn’t grow up bitter.

I often laughed that if my time was up, my grave would win Britain in Bloom competitions! My mother (Sal) loves her gardening.

Staying strong

The stumbling block was my little princess Evie. I’d lay awake for hours wondering who would wait up for her when she started going to discos or who would walk her down the aisle on her big day, I’d quickly have to change my thought process before the tears flowed.

I made a promise to myself from day one, that I’d stay strong and that I’d spread positive thoughts and lead by example. I never cried or got upset in front of others.

That’s not to say I didn’t lose a tear or two in the shower or in my pillow under the cover of darkness. The doctors tell you at the beginning that the chemo will make you ill and look unwell.

They tell you that it’s very important not to make any promises to your children that you can’t keep. Then that dreaded moment came ‘Daddy are you going to die?’

‘I’ll try my hardest not to princess’ was my reply. That moment my heart broke into two.

Gruelling treatment

The first few months were easier, but then my bone marrow crashed, and I spent months in intensive isolations fighting infections.

In total the intensive treatment lasted 14 months, I was treated in Barnstaple, Bristol, Plymouth, but mostly on the Yarty Ward in Wonford (Exeter), which is second to none.

My partner became a single mum overnight. I’d come home for weekends but couldn’t do anything as I was so ill. Sometimes I’d only last hours out of hospital before I’d be rushed back in. Lou and my mum would take turns visiting me in Exeter.

There is no stronger bond then a mother and sons, mum and I have spent hour after hour in little isolation rooms, often not talking for long periods of time. We would just hold hands and look into each other’s eyes... Nothing more needed to be said.

Support from everyone

Louise is my best friend as well as my partner, she’s a proper mother hen and made sure everything was in place... I felt like I was a commando fighter, fighting on the front line and that she was the logistics, running the show from HQ.

I also had Fabio Stanton and all my mates at Northside Football Club, and Gavin Tuach who raised money so my family didn’t have to worry about the financial impact of being off work.

I gathered a following of nearly 900 people with my weekly posts on Facebook and found such strength from their messages of support.

But most of all my humble thanks go to the wonderful NHS who saved my life!

Looking forward

Eighteen months on, and I still have 18 months to go of maintenance chemo treatment, but my life is slowly getting back to normal, whatever that is!

My princess is seven and is growing into such a wonderful person, and my little man is now three and perfect in every way.

I love them so much it hurts. I smile first thing in the morning and last thing at night because I’m still here with them.

Giving something back

I’m now very focused on raising money for two very special causes. ELF and the chemo appeal. To date we’ve raised nearly £5,000. My auntie Brenda has passed over £1,000 through her trails schools for CRY, my brother-in-law Nick done a sky dive, my Auntie Bonnie organised a shanty afternoon at the Camelford Golf Club, and most recently I chartered the Oldenburg for my birthday.

I managed to rope in and sell 170 tickets, raising £2,000 in the process. I’ve got lots of ideas for future fund raising events and I’m writing a book, The Full Blood Count which I hope to publish next year. All proceeds will go to these deserving charities.

This area really needs a proper chemo unit! It’s not fun travelling to Exeter with a funny tummy or sickness. So many different people from all walks of life get cancer and together we can beat it.

We must never surrender, so let’s come together and build a chemo unit to be proud of; after all you might need it one day!

Kind Regards,

Anthony Grills, Director of Grills Renovations and Refurbishments Ltd.