Inspirational cancer survivor nominated for international awards

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Gary Hooker

A grandfather who has lived with terminal cancer for nearly 10 years has been nominated for two international awards by staff from Guy’s and St Thomas’.

Gary Hooker, 65 from Grove Park in south-east London, was told he had stage 4 prostate cancer and just two years to live when he was diagnosed in 2011.

Almost 10 years later, thanks to joining a “life-changing” clinical trial at Guy’s and St Thomas’, Gary has shown he is a true survivor and has become an inspiration to others with prostate cancer. He now takes part in countless events around the world to share his story.

He also competed in the first ever Oncology Games in 2018 and won two bronze medals, raising money for Guy’s and St Thomas’.

To highlight the amazing work Gary has done, staff from Guy’s and St Thomas’ have nominated him for two prestigious WEGO Health Awards in the healthcare collaborator and patient leader hero categories. He has also been nominated by other people in three other categories – lifetime achievement, best in show: Twitter, and advocating for another.

Gary, a former school premises manager, said: “I’m completely honoured to be nominated for the awards, even if I don’t win. I cried when I saw the nominations. It’s a massive thing in my life. Thousands of people from around the world are nominated which makes it even more surreal to be nominated in five categories.

“It’s like when I went to the Oncology Games. I would never have done it if I didn’t have cancer. I’ve done so many lovely things because I’ve got cancer that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

“It’s a double-edged sword. I’ve accepted having cancer because I feel I can deal with it. There are a hell of a lot of people who can’t, that’s why I advocate myself as a survivor. I was told I had two years to live and now I’m still going nearly 10 years later – I’m a very lucky man and I love what I do.”

Gary was diagnosed with cancer in January 2011 after having a routine chest X-ray for a chest infection. He was shocked to be told he had suspected secondary cancer in his lungs, and was later diagnosed with prostate cancer which had spread to his bones.

He said: “I can still remember the feeling of devastation sitting on my bed and I had to phone my wife Jackie and tell her the news. But the next day the team at Guy’s informed me that there were lots of treatments available including hormone therapy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and clinical trials.”

At the end of 2011 he was told about the international PREVAIL trial, which Guy’s and St Thomas’ was participating in. It measures the success of a drug called enzalutamide, which works by blocking testosterone which feeds the cancer, against a placebo.

Gary said: “I decided to sign up and that turned out to be the greatest decision of my life – I’m still on the drug now. My health and energy improved and my cancer became stable. It’s meant I can look forward to life and make plans.

“I never thought I’d live to meet my three grandsons, who I adore. They keep me going, along with my wife, who has been my rock, and my four children who are so proud and supportive of me.

“I like to share my positive attitude with other men. I was diagnosed at stage 4 and the cancer had spread, but I like to go out and say it’s not the end of my life. I live with cancer and I respect my cancer. As long as I can get along with it, I won’t let it spoil my future for as long as I can.”

Gary says he is eternally grateful to the team at Guy’s. He said: “If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here. There’s nothing better I can say than that. They’ve got me through so much over the years, including more recently providing so much support when I was shielding at home due to coronavirus. They call to see how I am and if there is anything I need, and I know if I have issues I can pick up the phone. They are unbelievable, like a second family.”

Fee Cahill, urology research nurse, and Dr Verna Lavender, Head of Guy’s Cancer Academy, nominated Gary for the WEGO Health Awards.

Fee said: “Gary is well known and loved within the prostate cancer care team and among patients at Guy’s. He has become somewhat of a ‘go to’ guy for his insight, experience and support of the Guy’s team.

“Gary has been invited to present at many healthcare professional meetings and conferences nationally and internationally, as the longest surviving patient on an advanced prostate cancer treatment. He regularly supports our research focus groups, staff training and teaching seminars.

“You couldn’t meet a nicer man and it’s been my privilege to look after him.”

Dr Lavender added: “I met Gary at the Guy’s Cancer Prostate Life support group in November 2018 when I reached out for Guy’s Cancer Academy patient representatives. Gary was the first man to volunteer and has been a keen supporter of the Academy since.

“Gary describes himself as an ordinary bloke, but his Herculean efforts to promote physical activity for people with cancer and advocate for effective communication and cancer support is truly Olympian. I feel very honoured to work with Gary and regard him as ‘one of the team’ at Guy’s Cancer Academy.”

The WEGO Health Awards aim to empower patient leaders and celebrate their accomplishments. This year more than 13,000 nominations from around the globe have been made in 16 different categories.

Finalists will be announced this month before the 16 winners are named on October 14 during a virtual celebration in partnership with HLTH. Visit WEGO Health for more information. 

Last updated: September 2020

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