Barber Chris Riley was a super-fit, 28-year-old keen cyclist.
He was planning his wedding to childhood sweetheart Elle Stubbington and the future was looking bright.
Then 12 months ago, after going to a friend’s stag night, he started to feel really “weird”.
“I don’t really drink much so it wasn’t that but I just couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong,” recalls Chris, a barber from Steeton, West Yorkshire. “I didn’t have any obvious physical symptoms but then I started to have panic attacks. It had really started to affect my mental health. I was really nervous all the time, which wasn’t like me.”
Eventually, in January last year, Chris went to see his GP who put him on anti-depressants.
“They helped a little but I still knew there was something wrong with me.”
His boss suggested he try some complementary therapies such as Reiki.
“I decided to have a Reiki session and the therapist said she couldn’t detect any anxiety or depression but she was getting something wrong with my stomach.”
Chris changed his diet, which seemed to help things, and then the pandemic happened.
“We were very lucky that during the lockdown the weather was great so I was heading out on my bike a lot at the beginning. This was when more serious problems started to emerge,” he recalls. “The first sign of something more serious being wrong was on my bike one morning riding up a hill, I started feeling tight-chested and short of breath. I decided to ride home and see how I felt later.
“A couple of weeks went by and the chest pain whilst exercising got gradually worse so I decided to stop cycling until I could see what was happening. By this time I was starting to have difficulty chewing and swallowing my food.”
His GP prescribed some tablets to reduce his stomach acid. Eventually he managed to get referred for a scan, but just before he was due to go he started to vomit blood.
He was rushed to A&E with a suspected perforated ulcer.
“They did some blood tests and they came back okay so they sent me home and it didn’t happen again.”
He hoped his scheduled endoscopy would shed light on his condition, which he was convinced was an ulcer.
But he quickly realised it was something far more serious.
“I was taken to a recovery area and told to ring my mum and ask her to come to the hospital. About 30 minutes later me and my mum sat in a room with a nurse who went on to tell us that the endoscopy had shown some heavy ulceration and abnormalities in my stomach. I was told I would be staying in hospital that night and having a CT scan first thing in the morning.
The scan confirmed he had stomach cancer, which had advanced to stage four and had spread to his lymph nodes and liver.
“I did the worst thing and Googled it when I got home. They told me it was extremely rare in someone so young. I am a pretty positive person and even then I still thought it would be fine”
But Chris was told that if he lived a year he would be lucky.
“At first I didn’t really believe it, I was only 28 – or maybe I just didn’t want to believe it. And then I was determined to beat it. As I was so young and such an unusual case all the predictions and treatment were based on people far older than me.”
But Chris had a terrible reaction to the chemotherapy he was initially given. It was so bad that he decided to stop it altogether and look at alternatives.
He sought the help of a nutritionist who he says has been “amazing”. He now eats a mainly plant-based diet and if he does eat meat it is organic and really lean.
His consultant put him forward for tests to see if he would be suitable for an experimental immunotherapy.
But the treatment is only available privately and when Chris’s many friends, colleagues and customers heard of his plight they rushed to support a Go Fund Me page set up by his family. The aim is to raise £150,000 to help pay for Chris’s treatment and to help make his life easier.
Chris has been overwhelmed by the number of people who have held events to raise money for him. Events included cycling 30 miles for 30 days, swimming or running a mile a day for 30 days, running for a solid 25 hours, cycling for miles along the towpaths, running marathons, a Three Peaks challenge and a sky dive.
The amount raised stands at just short of £50,000.
“People have been amazing. They have been holding raffles and sponsored events. I cannot thank them enough.”
He has also started on a different type of gruelling chemotherapy which while leaving him feeling ill and tired, is not as bad as his initial treatment.
“I went into hospital in so much pain – I thought I was dying. But even after the first round of this chemotherapy the pain had gone.
“My consultant says there is no reason why I developed cancer. There is no history of it in our family and I was fit an healthy – he says I am just unlucky.”
Chris has also had help from Manorlands Hospice, near Keighley. “The doctors there have been amazing. I talked to them on the phone and they were brilliant,” says Chris, who has written a blog about his cancer journey.
He still hopes to be able to have immunotherapy treatment later this year.
To read more about Chris’s story visit https://formycancerjourney.wordpress.com/