Wensleydale man who survived cancer after having eight organs removed plans Mongolia trip

Adam Alderson celebrates beating cancer with fiancee Laura Blanchard.

A Wensleydale man is planning an epic adventure to Mongolia in a car bought for just £500 to raise money for the charities which helped him beat cancer. Joe Willis tells how Adam Alderson’s survival after having eight organs removed during a marathon 17-hour operation is giving fresh hope to other cancer sufferers. 

Adam woke in the operating theatre to the voice of Jeremy Vine on the radio. He knew instantly that something was wrong as the operation to remove his tumour was supposed to take 18 hours and if Jeremy Vine was still on BBC Radio Two he had not been under for anywhere near long enough.

Just six months earlier Adam Alderson and fiancee Laura Blanchard were living their dreams, building an amazing life together after moving from the Yorkshire Dales to Australia. They both had great jobs, Adam was working as a tree surgeon while Laura worked for insurance and banking company JLT.He was right. The surgeons at The Christie Cancer Hospital in Manchester had stopped after four hours. They had found that the cancer that was killing Adam was far more developed than they had expected. It had spread throughout his abdominal cavity. His large bowel had already failed and other organs were badly damaged.

The couple did not realise that their lives were about to be turned upside down. Adam had suffered from stomach troubles for years, and like many patients, was misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). His symptoms had been becoming increasingly worse so he booked an appointment for what he believed would be routine tests.

But it was a huge shock when he was diagnosed with pseudomyxoma peritonei – PMP for short – a very rare form of cancer that grows inside the abdominal cavity and will crush and destroy the organs unless treated or removed. He was told that he would have to return home to the UK immediately where he would be treated at The Christie in Manchester.

He said: “I couldn’t believe it. My head was spinning, I had so many questions but so little time.

“I’m not good when people tell me what to do but I knew that this time I had to do as I was told and get on a plane. All I could hope was that they caught the disease and I could have whatever treatment was necessary and get on with things.”

Adam was admitted to The Christie and an operation to remove the tumour and HIPEC, which is the washing of a tumour in hot chemotherapy, was planned. The procedure should have taken up to 18 hours however just a few hours later Adam was in the recovery room after waking to the voice of Jeremy Vine. He was all too aware that things hadn’t gone to plan.

Adam was told in hospital that the cancer would kill him.
Adam was told in hospital that the cancer would kill him.

The meeting that followed would confirm his worst fears – there was nothing more that could be done. Adam was given as little as two years to live.

“You just don’t expect it. It sounds like a cliché but I had my whole life ahead of me. I had plans – there were things I wanted to see and do. All this was taken from me. Any future I had no longer felt real.

“That’s when I decided that I wasn’t going to accept the diagnosis. There had to be more that could be done. I could roll over and die – literally – or I could fight. I’ve always been a stubborn Yorkshireman and now was the time to put this to the test and to fight like I never had before.”

Adam started to do his own research on the internet and came across the same name time and time again, Dr Brendan Moran.

He also read about an inspirational athlete, former England and St Helens Rugby League player, Steve Prescott.

Steve was diagnosed with PMP and given a similar prognosis to Adam. But seven years later he was still playing rugby, running marathons and raising money for charity.

“Hearing about Steve and what he had achieved despite living with PMP gave me some hope. I took some relief from knowing that there were other people out there going through the same as me.”

In October 2013, Steve embarked on a pioneering operation that would see him have a multiple organ transplant.

Although the 32-hour procedure was a success, Steve sadly passed away aged just 39 after suffering from graft-versus-host disease, a complication that can follow a transplant.

The news hit Adam hard but he realised that Steve had started out on a journey and had left a legacy that he could build upon.

Adam made a call to Dr Moran and asked him to look through his scans and to give him a second opinion.

Adam enjoys a drink with consultant Georgios Vrakas, one of the 30 medics who saved his life.
Adam enjoys a drink with consultant Georgios Vrakas, one of the 30 medics who saved his life.

Dr Moran agreed. An appointment was arranged for Adam to travel to Basingstoke to meet with Dr Moran to discuss his situation. The outcome wasn’t what he had been expecting.

“I wasn’t expecting a miracle but perhaps some light at the end of the tunnel, even if it meant prolonging my life but that wasn’t that case. Dr Moran believed that an operation would do more damage than good. I was devastated. That was it, game over.”

Before leaving the consulting room, Dr Moran said there could possibly be another option and asked Adam is he had heard of Steve Prescott. Adam explained that he had followed his journey and that he was one of the key influences in his belief that more could be done.

Dr Moran said that Adam was an ideal candidate for this procedure as he was young, fit and mist of all, incredibly stubborn!

Adam put himself forward and made it clear that he was very aware of the risks but was willing to try anything – after all, what did he have to lose?

Things moved very quickly and Adam was told to exercise and to put on weight. By this point he was fed through a tube and could barely lift himself out of a bath never mind walk on a treadmill or pedal an exercise bike, however knowing this was his last chance he put everything he had left into getting into the best shape he could.

During his next consultation it was agreed that Adam was ready for the procedure and that he should go home and wait for a call.

Less than 48-hours later the call came at 2am that a potential donor had been found. Adam and Laura made the agonising trip driving through the night to Oxford while tests confirmed the donor organs were a match.

Adam said: “I was so very poorly and despite knowing this operation was the only thing that could save my life, we were both very aware of what this time could be. We looked at each other and no words were necessary. Instead we picked out some slippers from the iPad – to be honest, that sums us up. Despite everything we’ve been through we try not to focus on the negative.”

Scheduled to take 32-hours, the operation actually took a team of 30 medics just 17 hours. During that time Adam’s stomach, large bowel, small bowel, pancreas, spleen, gallbladder, appendix and abdominal wall were all removed, along with most of Adam’s liver and a tumour weighing 10Kg. Adam then received multiple abdominal organs from a donor.

“I can’t thank my donor family enough. Without them I would have died, there is no doubt about it and I will never take for granted their selflessness during what must have been a terrible time. I hope that they gain some comfort in knowing that their decision saved a life.”

It is now a year on from surgery. It hasn’t been easy but Adam has faced any complications head-on and is looking forward to a future with his wife-to-be, Laura.

“My fiancee Laura has been by my side through it all – thick and thin. We didn’t need to be married to make the commitment we did, but I think it’s now time to put things right. She is my everything so when I was given the all clear, I asked her to be my wife – it’s just as well she said yes.

“As well as making arrangements for the wedding, we are now planning our next adventure with the Mongol Rally in the hope that we can give something back to everyone who has helped us along the way. There are too many people and organisations to mention individually but we really do appreciate the strength that they had when we didn’t think we could go on.

“I ask anyone who thinks that they can help in this challenge to dig deep. Some of our friends think we are bonkers but I know just how important it is to make the very most of every day. When your choice is life and death, I choose life.”

Adam and Laura with Macmillan Cancer Support nurse Chris Ward who he describes as an "amazing woman".
Adam and Laura with Macmillan Cancer Support nurse Chris Ward who he describes as an “amazing woman”.

Only four other people around the world including Steve Prescott had at the time undergone the same incredible procedure – and only one other person has lived.

Adam’s survival for 12 months is a personal triumph for him but for other sufferers of pseudomyxoma peritonei it could be just as momentous, giving them hope of a viable option when previously they had little or no hope.

Adam celebrates his birthday in hospital.
Adam celebrates his birthday in hospital.

Thanks to the amazing NHS doctors and nurses, the incredible support of his partner Laura and the selflessness of someone who was prepared to offer their organs for donation to save someone else’s life in the event of their death, Adam is now looking forward to a bright future. Adam’s incredible story will give hope to many others, not just those suffering from the rare cancer that he had.

As the mantra that he adopted from rugby legend Steve Prescott says ”what the mind believes the body achieves”. And Adam never stopped believing.

Adam has just signed all of the paperwork that will confirm that along with Laura and two friends, he will embark on the Mongol Rally – a 15,000-mile unassisted charity challenge – later this year.

The event, billed as the ‘the greatest motoring adventure on the planet’, covers 24 countries with drivers facing rough terrain including mountains and desert across Europe and Asia, with no support, no back up and no set route.

Hoping to raise in excess of £20,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support and the Steve Prescott Foundation, Adam and his team, The Yorkshire Yaks, have embraced the challenge that awaits and are calling upon local companies and individuals to show their support for this epic adventure.

For further details, please contact the team via email yorkshireyaks17@hotmail.com Facebook  www.facebook.com/YorkshireYaks or on Twitter @YorkshireYaks or #madeinyorkshirerebuiltinoxford.