Rugby man who first thought tumour was just a bad lunch is raising funds for Cancer Research

Neil Hubbard and Tracey Cox with Fizz.Neil Hubbard and Tracey Cox with Fizz.
Neil Hubbard and Tracey Cox with Fizz.
Neil was initially convinced his terrible stomach ache was just the result of a dodgy lunch

A Rugby man who mistook the pain from a bowel-blocking tumour for the effects of a free lunchtime burger is celebrating his survival by stepping up for Cancer Research UK’s latest fundraising campaign, Walk All Over Cancer.

Neil Hubbard only took himself to hospital when the pain from his apparently ‘dodgy’ lunch became agonising.

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By the time he had emergency colostomy surgery he was vomiting up his own bowel contents.

Further surgery to remove the cancer, followed by intensive chemotherapy, put Neil into remission.

But his cancer recurred in April 2017. He had to have further surgery along with an internal chemotherapy wash, followed by a second stoma, which he still lives with.

Seven years on, and having thought he would never date a woman again, Neil is looking forward to marrying fiancée Tracey.

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He is determined to fundraise and help Cancer Research UK’s life-saving mission.

Neil, who works as a tax adviser for HMRC in Birmingham, is inviting people to follow in his footsteps and get sponsored to walk 10,000 steps every day in March.

A keen cyclist and musician who originally lived in Manchester, Neil’s grumbling stomach aches started in 2013 and were initially put down to irritable bowel syndrome.

Ironically, he had just completed the Manchester 100 cycle ride to raise funds for Cancer Research UK two months before his diagnosis.

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It was in September 2015, while Neil was at work at HMRC in Salford Quays, Manchester, that he had terrible stomach cramps and agonising pain.

He said: “I’d been given vouchers for a free burger at a local eatery, and my colleagues were joking that it must have been a dodgy one to make me so ill.

"I thought so too, but by the evening the pain was unbearable. I rang NHS 111 and was advised to go to A&E.

“Once I was in the Christie hospital I started vomiting up some really horrible stuff – basically it was faecal matter from my colon coming up.

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“They took me down for a scan and gave me a sedative, and when I woke up I’d had emergency surgery and had been fitted with a colostomy bag. It was a bit of a shock to say the least.

“They told me they’d just had to open me up and empty me out because I was completely blocked up.

"I kept asking if it was cancer but they thought it was a twisted bowel. It was only when I had another scan two days after the operation that I was given the news that it was in fact cancer.”

Surgeons then operated to remove the tumour and any affected bowel. It turned out the cancer had spread to Neil’s lymph nodes, so he also needed chemotherapy to target any residual cancer cells.

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He said: “The chemotherapy had some pretty unpleasant side effects but my son, Rixx, was an absolute rock in helping to look after me and really helped me through it. Once chemotherapy was finished, I was able to have my stoma reversed and everything looked really good. I even took on the Manchester 100 cycle race again."

But in April 2017 bad news struck. A routine follow-up scan had shown the cancer had come back. Neil was devastated.

He said: “It was scary. I felt my prognosis wasn’t very good and the more I read on the internet the worse I felt. I had a 10.5-hour operation where they basically pull all the bits out of you and remove the tumours, then they flush you out with a chemotherapy wash. It was a big thing and quite a new procedure.”

Despite begging the surgeon to try not to give him another stoma, Neil woke up with one. The operation had been a big success and all the cancer had been cleared, but the stoma was inevitable.

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He said: “Living with a stoma was a challenge at first, particularly as the first one kept leaking. But the second one was much better, and I gradually learnt to be open about it and not embarrassed. I didn’t think I would have the confidence to date again, but meeting Tracey changed all that.

“I am still followed up every year, and things will never be quite the same for me, but I consider myself incredibly fortunate to still be here.

"The procedures that saved me were only available because of research - and I’m grateful every day for that.

“There’s some beautiful countryside in Warwickshire, so I hope the people round here will join me and Walk All Over Cancer this March.

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"Everyone can go at their own pace and build the steps into their day-to-day routine. Every step will help Cancer Research UK to keep making great strides in the fight against the disease.”

In the West Midlands, around 36,800 people are diagnosed with cancer a year.* But, thanks to research more people than ever across the UK are surviving their cancer for 10 years or more.

This year marks 20 years since Cancer Research UK was formed and to celebrate its birthday it is paying tribute to supporters like Neil for the part they have played in this progress.

The charity’s history, however, goes back much further to the founding of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in 1902 – meaning its work has been at the heart of some of the biggest developments in cancer, including some of the most used cancer drugs around the world today.

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Jane Redman, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for Warwickshire, said: “Every day we see the benefits of research we’ve previously funded being realised, helping people live longer and healthier lives.

"So as we mark our 20th anniversary, we want to say a heartfelt thank you to Neil and people across Warwickshire for their incredible commitment to the cause.

“One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime, and so we will never stop striving to create better treatments for tomorrow.

"That’s why we need everyone to step up to Walk All Over Cancer. It’s a safe and simple way to show support during these challenging times and a great way for homeworkers to increase their daily step count.

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“Plus, knowing you’ll be helping to save and improve lives for generations to come is the ultimate motivation. We've come so far. And we will go much further. Together we will beat cancer.”

Ten thousand steps is equal to about five miles, based on the average person’s strides, so by the end of March Neil will have clocked up more than 150 miles.

That’s quite a challenge for some, but adopting small changes that you can stick to can really add up – whether it’s taking part in conference calls on the go, exploring local beauty spots or treating the dog to a month of extra-long walks.

Keeping check on the number of steps taken each day is a great way to create a sense of achievement and it’s easy to do with smartphone apps, pedometers and wearable activity trackers available to help.

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Walk All Over Cancer participants can connect their online giving page with FitBit to automatically publish their step count and share their progress with their supporters throughout the month.

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

“From proving the link between smoking and cancer to laying the foundations for modern radiotherapy – our scientists have been at the forefront of cancer research for 120 years. We hope people in Warwickshire will pull on their walking shoes and help us to keep pushing forward.”

Cancer Research UK was able to spend over £10 million in the West Midlands last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research. The charity’s ambition is to see 3 in 4 people survive their cancer by 2034.

To sign up and receive a free fundraising pack and t-shirt, visit