AN early career involving active service in the military as a special communications engineering officer could not prepare John Barton for the news doctors were to give him after he was diagnosed with cancer.

John, aged 55, from Old Basing, Hampshire, was recently told he was suffering from a very rare and aggressive form of cancer and he was facing the biggest challenge of his life.

“It was hard to receive that diagnosis – that you have stage 4 terminal cancer and doctors have given you six months to live. In the military you were used to facing the fact in conflict there was always a chance you will come not come back – but it was never front and centre.

“Being told very clearly that you will die in a relatively short period of time was difficult to absorb and extremely difficult to take for my wife and family, particularly being such a fit and healthy person”.

Despite his own challenges, John is backing a Cancer Research UK campaign to help save more lives, as the charity fights back from the impact of the pandemic.

John was first diagnosed just over two years ago after completing a marathon when, in a matter of days, he felt sever discomfort in his lower abdomen and bladder.

A CT and then MRI scan revealed a growth, weighing 2.5 kilograms, was attached to the soft tissue of his large intestine. Doctors operated immediately and the tumour was removed.

However during surgery, which took seven hours, the tumour ruptured resulting in the need for a hot chemotherapy wash to prevent the potential spread of the cancer.

“I had spent two days instead of the expected five days in intensive care after surgery and I was out of hospital within seven days of having the operation instead of the normal three weeks. I did not want to be stuck in a hospital bed and, being very fit and motivated by physiotherapy, was determined to get home and recover there”.

John, the chief information officer at Gatwick Airport, was back at work within 12 weeks during which time he faced radiotherapy treatment five days a week for three months.

By the end of that year John was offered a role as chief information & digital officer at Abu Dhabi Airports.

“My consultant said there was no reason why I could not go and I worked abroad for a year”.

But a routine scan in January 2021 confirmed John’s cancer had returned and doctors said the tumours appeared to be very aggressive.

“Another scan in March confirmed the cancer had spread to my liver, lung and again in the gut and I was told I was terminally ill”.

John - married to Olwen for 32 years with two children (a daughter Jemma, 24, and a son, Charlie, 22) - is currently undergoing six cycles of chemotherapy, with a three-week gap between cycles.

“Chemotherapy is not pleasant and affects people if different ways”.

John is very honest and admitted that for a few days following the treatment he had never felt “so awful, so destroyed” but after four to five days things picked up and he started to feel more normal again, although never quite one hundred per cent.

“I should know after the third cycle if the treatment is working. Meanwhile, I am treating this as a project and planning each day”.

A few weeks after being told his cancer was terminal John decided to retire from work to focus on his family and make the most of the time he had left.

“I needed to ensure everything was sorted out. I finalised my pensions and sorted out my finances and I completed plans for my funeral – not wishing this to be a burden on my family. That has all been parked now. All I have to worry about now is living my life which, to me, means giving back and helping others.

A fully qualified pilot, John is currently teaching his son to fly and is delighted that Charlie is due to fly solo soon. When he went to introduce himself to his local vicar he ended up helping St Mary’s Church, Old Basing, resolve a live streaming issues network.

He is also a committed Cancer Research UK fundraiser. He has already raised over £5,000 from taking part in the half marathon just four months after his surgery and, through Linkedin, he is now offering coaching to individuals looking to advance their careers and companies to share his knowledge and professional IT expertise in return for donations to CRUK’s life-saving research.

John recently posted: “Those who know me well know I am a fighter and love a challenge, although I was not expecting this challenge which will be the biggest of my life. Over many years of being a chief information officer I have gained a great deal of experience – getting some things right and some things not so right.

“It would be a shame not to put to good use my IT knowledge by coaching individuals and companies to try to understand how people like me think. To pass on what I have learned over the years”.

With that in mind, John invites people who would like advice, coaching or just to use him as a sounding board, to contact him via the online service.

“If the feedback was valuable I ask people to make a donation to Cancer Research UK. I am humbled by the many kind messages and support I have received”.

People and companies from all over the world – including India, America and Australia - are connecting and have donated.

“Everybody is different. I believe a positive attitude has a massive part to play on how to manage cancer although I believe only science can fix it.

“I don’t want to miss any opportunities I have. If sharing my story helps others, then that is a positive”.

John has also paid tribute to others who have supported him, including the tireless army of fundraisers, volunteers and donors who help to fund life-saving research which has provided some of his treatments.

He is highlighting a short film from Cancer Research UK, which features the sobering statistic that one in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime and underlines how everyone has a part to play in the fight against the disease.

John hopes his story will inspire people to make a difference and become a part of the solution.

“My experience means I understand the importance of Cancer Research UK’s work all too clearly. As a result of the pandemic, cancer is as urgent an issue now as it’s ever been.

“With so many people affected, we’re all in this together, so I hope people will play their part. Every action – big or small – helps Cancer Research UK to ensure more people survive.”

In the South East, around 52,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year.

Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of the progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.

Helen Johnstone, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for South Central, said: “We are grateful to John for his support. COVID-19 has hit us hard, but we are more focussed than ever on our ambition of seeing 3 in 4 people survive their cancer by 2034.

“This past year proves, more than any other, the value of research and what can be achieved together. Just like science is our route out of the pandemic, science is our route to beating cancer.

“That’s why we want to harness the ‘people power’ of our incredible supporters, because the progress we make relies on every hour of research, every pound donated and everyone who gets involved.

“So, whether they give £2 a month, sign up to Race for Life, volunteer at our shops or pledge to leave a gift in their Will - with the help of people in Hampshire we believe that together we will beat cancer.”

Cancer Research UK was able to spend over £34 million in the South East alone last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.