Battling Roy drops in to help cancer charity

79 year old Roy Twelves from Darras Hall Ponteland
79 year old Roy Twelves from Darras Hall Ponteland

A 79-year-old who underwent four major operations in a month in life-saving cancer surgery has proved he is fighting fit once more after taking on a charity abseil.

Roy Twelves, of Darras Hall, completed the amazing feat at the Malmaison Hotel at Newcastle Quayside on Sunday to raise awareness and funds for the Northern Oesophago Gastric Cancer Fund.

The keen sailor was eager to support the cause to show his appreciation for staff at the RVI in Newcastle who helped to save his life.

It was in 2008 that Mr Twelves was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer after he told his son, Dr Nigel Twelves, a Ponteland GP, that he was having trouble digesting his food and needed to drink a lot of water at meal times.

Dr Twelves recognised the symptoms and told his father to see one of his colleagues and after an endoscopy the diagnosis was confirmed.

However, his treatment was far from straight forward.

“It was a fairly aggressive cancer. They decided they could operate, but it would be a benefit to have chemotherapy beforehand so I had three months of fairly severe chemotherapy and went into hospital just before Christmas to have my operation,” said Mr Twelves.

“Unfortunately, there was a slight problem with haemorrhaging so I had to go back and get it re-done, then about three weeks after that I got an infection inside and the whole thing had to be repeated again.

“Obviously they had to clear out the infection and about a week after that I had to have a further operation. Over a period of about a month I had to have four pretty major operations. I have always been a fairly fit person, I kept myself fit and looked after myself, so it was felt by the consultants that it would stand me in good stead and enable me to put up with it.”

In all, Mr Twelves spent six months in the RVI due to further complications, although he said it is not unusual for other people undergoing the same procedures to be back home within ten days.

However, he says his treatment could not have been better.

“It was very serious,” he said. “Quite honestly, the skill and the expertise of Professor Griffin, the head of the department, and his staff is remarkable. They are all dedicated, highly-skilled people.”

When he was finally able to leave hospital in June 2009, Mr Twelves began his road back to full recovery, taking up sailing again in his 30ft racing yacht and serving as President of Sunderland Yacht Club, as well as riding his bike and leading Ponteland Senior Gentlemen’s Club.

“The consultants always said they would get me back to 80 per cent of what I was before – I would like to think they have gone better than that and got me back to about 90 per cent,” he said.

So it was no surprise that when the Northern Oesophago Gastric Unit (NOGU) announced an abseil as part of its awareness-raising campaign, Mr Twelves was one of the first to sign up.

“They have this awareness week every two years and two years ago they had an abseil and I thought I would like to do that so this time when it cropped up I had to make sure that I did it,” he said. “Heights don’t bother me and I’m used to being around ropes from sailing so once I was shown how to do it it became fairly easy.”

Mr Twelves hopes to have raised more than £200 from his adventure, contributing to a group total from 60 participants of around £6,000.

The abseil was organised by specialist nurse Claire Sedgewick and Prof Mike Griffin, along with a team of helpers from the RVI, to raise awareness of the symptoms of oesophageal cancer and the importance of having them checked out early. Symptoms include feeling full earlier than expected when eating, excessive or unexplained weight loss, swallowing difficulties or regurgitating food and persistent heartburn or indigestion.

For more information about oesophageal cancer and the fund visit