South Shields grandad who was diagnosed with 'incurable' cancer at 18 publishes children's book

John Walker Pattison from South Tyneside, who has lived with cancer for over 40 years, has announced a new children's book series that has been picked up by global publisher, Austin Macauley.

After a long career beginning as a welder at 17 and then a nurse later in life, despite his life-long battle with 'incurable' cancer, John has retired and turned to his passion for storytelling.

His new book, ‘Strange Trips and Weird Adventures’, fuses his personal experience with fantasy and has been picked up by the London-based publisher.

"When I retired from my nursing post, I thought ‘well, why don't I put these stories down on paper." says John.

“That's what I did and it just grew and grew and grew from there until my first book was published this year.

“I suspect that my grandchildren have been the stimulus for my exaggerated imagination”

After years of taking his own grandchildren on his weird and wonderful imaginary adventures, Pattison decided to use his retirement as an opportunity to share his stories with the world. 

John's incredible life story

At 17, John started work as a welder in a local shipyard but just ten months later he fell seriously ill.

He suffered in silence for months, losing huge amounts of weight while “pretending that everything was okay”.

John at 18, two months before his life changing diagnosis Credit: John Walker Pattison

Eventually, weighing just six stone at the time, John collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital. 

He was diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. John’s parents were informed that their son had a 50/50 chance of survival, but they chose not to tell him.

John said: “Mum and dad kept that diagnosis from me.

“I think it was a coping mechanism for them, a control thing even, and while I can understand why they did it, I never agreed with them.”

It wasn’t until John required more specialist attention at Newcastle General Hospital that he realised the severity of his illness.

He was reading an article in the newspaper about the soap opera, Crossroads. One of its stars, Richard Tonge, had been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma. 

John recognised the illness as the one he had been diagnosed with but he had no idea it was cancer until that moment.

“My mum came in on the afternoon to visit, and I confronted her. Of course, she got upset and tried to justify their decisions. I became tearful and angry - by that point, I was facing chemotherapy.”

Over the next three years, Mr Pattison underwent three different types of chemotherapy but relapsed each time.

He then had radiotherapy and relapsed once more. At this point, he was told there was nothing else that could be done.

According to his doctors at the time, his condition couldn’t be cured so they initiated palliative chemotherapy.

But then, after 6 months of treatment, John defied all odds and went into remission where he has remained to this day four decades later. 

John returned to work in the shipyard, but as a result of the treatment he was unable to have children, so he and his wife adopted a young girl, Donna. 

Tragically, Donna was diagnosed with an extremely rare adult form of leukaemia at the age of four.

John with his daughter Donna during her treatment for cancer Credit: John Walker Pattison

The condition had no treatment - John and his wife were informed that she would not survive.

But, like her father, Donna did survive and went on to live an incredible life. 

John said:

Donna, was left with a mild learning difficulty but despite this, she went on to become an international swimmer.

She swam for Great Britain in the Paralympic team and came back from New Zealand with two silver medals in 1996.

After Donna’s incredible recovery, John decided to change career, going back to college to get his O-levels and an A-level before enrolling on a nursing course. 

By the time of his retirement, John was the senior clinical nurse specialist in haematology at the very hospital that made his diagnosis. 

John said: “I'm a huge believer in fate."

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