Colin Ellis: I knew smoking caused lung cancer but I never thought I would get cancer of the vocal cords at 52

A FORMER smoker diagnosed with cancer is urging smokers across West Yorkshire and Harrogate to never give up quitting for the launch of a new 16 Cancers campaign.

“People think the hard part is the cancer diagnosis, but the difficult part is living with the aftermath.  I have been living with a tracheostomy after being diagnosed with advanced cancer of my vocal cords, seven years ago.  It affects the majority of your senses; speech, smell, taste as well as your physical and mental health,” said Colin.

A tracheostomy is a surgical procedure to create an opening (stoma) through the neck into the trachea (windpipe). It helps a person breathe after having surgery.

With smoking causing 14.7% of cancer cases[i] and 27% of all cancer deaths in England[ii], it is estimated that smoking causes 44,100[iii] new cases of cancer and over 36,600 deaths from cancer a year[iv]. For West Yorkshire  between 2015­ – 2017, around 10,901 people died as a result of smoking, that is around 3,634 people per year.

At the time of his diagnosis, Colin, a patient at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, was just 52 and a successful Operations Director for a large company, happily married for over 30 years with three grown up children and is now granddad to 10 grandchildren.

“I was a big character, usually the loudest person in the room and a born talker.  My job as a Director of Operations meant communicating was a key part of my role.  I was constantly talking.  I had to give up the job that I loved.  Losing my voice was like losing my identity but I have no one to blame but myself. I gave my voice away by smoking to the extent that I did,” said Colin.

Colin’s therapist, Nina Corfield, Macmillan Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist at the  Trust, said: “Working with people who have had treatment for smoking related head and neck cancers, I see first-hand their struggles with their diagnosis, and the impact of their treatment on the functions we take for granted like eating, drinking, swallowing and talking; and the wider impact of this on their social lives and their families.

“After surgery and chemo-radiotherapy treatment people may be left with a permanently dry mouth, making it difficult to eat foods like bread and meat;  difficulty moving their tongue, making it difficult to chew anything; difficulty closing their lips, making it difficult to keep food and drink in their mouths.  Some people manage a soft moist diet at best, others only managing liquids as their swallow is so disrupted.  Some are  permanently fed through a tube into their stomach, as to swallow anything would mean it going straight into their lungs. People may be left with slurred speech or a very hoarse voice which may be difficult for others to understand.  The impact on all of this can lead  to low mood, depression and isolation.”

Colin’s warning on how smoking affected him, and his family comes as the 16 Cancers campaign* launches across Yorkshire with regional TV advertising from North of England Cancer Alliances and with a campaign on buses, radio and press advertising. Smokers can visit to find tips to quit and details of local support.

Professor Sean Duffy, Clinical Lead with the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance, said the campaign formed an important part of plans across the area to make people more aware of the impact of smoking on their overall health; raise awareness of the symptoms associated with smoking-related diseases like cancer and to provide encouragement and support to help smokers to quit.

“Lung cancer is our biggest cancer killer across West Yorkshire and Harrogate, and lots of people are aware of the links between lung cancer and smoking. What many smokers are not aware of is that their addiction increases their chances of developing at least 16 types of cancer.

“We know that the powerful stories of real people dealing with the real impact of smoking on their lives and the lives of their loved ones can make a real difference and make people think twice about the devastating impact that cigarettes can have.”

Colin started smoking at the age of 16, as a young Electrician working in the local mine; “Back in the day everyone smoked, and I quickly progressed to 40 cigarettes a day,” said Colin.  “I then started smoking cigars. I, however, smoked them like cigarettes, inhaling them and I ended up smoking 20 cigars a day, so it was worse than cigarettes.”

In 2010 he started having bouts of losing his voice completely and suffering from sore throats and shortness of breath. He was eventually diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and he was told without a tracheostomy he had only three months to live.

“I was operated on very quickly resulting in me having no choice but to go cold turkey on the cigars and the nicotine withdrawal was horrendous.  I haven’t smoked for seven years now.”

Colin added: “The impact of smoking and having had cancer means my wife is now my carer,  and I cannot be the dad and granddad that I wanted to be and that is all down to me and my smoking.”   You can watch Colin’s film and read his full story here

And it is not just smokers who  are affected, it really has an effect on families.  Danniella from Leeds is trying to come to terms with the loss of her beloved step dad Colin who despite quitting smoking 15 years ago the effects of smoking from the very early age of 14 years old had a devastating impact, taking his life within just three weeks of being diagnosed with lung cancer.  He was just 60 years old.

Two months on from Colin’s passing 26 year old Danniella, said: “It all happened so fast that it is only now that we are trying to come to terms with his death.  It is the little things that set you off, like not seeing his slippers in the hallway, after 24 years of them always being there. I also can’t believe that Colin won’t be at my wedding or meet my children when I eventually have them – but I will make sure they know all about him.”   You can read Danniella’s full story here.

Besides lung cancer, smoking also causes cancers of the mouth, nasal cavities, pharynx and larynx, stomach, kidney, bowel, liver, pancreas, cervix, bladder and ovaries, oesophagus and ureter, as well as myeloid leukaemia[v].  There is also some evidence that smoking could cause breast cancer.

If you would like support to quit smoking then please visit

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