A BATTLING husband smiles for the camera – masking his gruelling fight against cancer.
Richard Griffiths, 32, has just emerged from the hell of a 30-month fight for life.
At its worst, doctors told the Hartlepool man they could do no more for him.
“I was at death’s door,” admitted the Elgin Road resident.
His battle was so hard, he had the date of a life-saving transplant tattooed on his arm.
“They were stuck over what to do. It came down to whether my body could fight through it. The doctor told me it was up to me now and only the brave will survive.”
Richard was first diagnosed with a lymphoma in August 2010 and in the months that followed, battled cancer and a string of other complications.
Yet in a remarkable turnaround, the dad-of-two has now been free of all symptoms for nearly three months.
And in another astonishing twist, Richard also looks to have been cured of the rare blood disorder Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome which had caused him all his problems in the first place.
His loyal wife and registered carer Chiara, 33, said: “It is unbelievable to think what he has come through. I never slept. It has been the worst time of my life.”
Richard was so ill, his weight dropped from 10st to 6st. His legs became so weak, they couldn’t support his ever-weakening body.
Looking back, he said: “In the last year of the illness, I spent nine weeks at home. The other 43, I was in hospital.”
He spent months on end in the Northern Centre for Cancer Care within Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, sometimes watching as the curtains closed around the beds of fellow patients – a sign, he said, that they had lost their own fight with cancer.
Richard’s battle started when a biopsy in August 2010 confirmed the worst news possible.
He had cancer of the lymph glands. It was in both sides of his upper torso.
Seven days of intensive chemotherapy followed to completely remove his own marrow, until he was left with no immune system.
He was isolated in a sterilised room. Only his wife and mother could visit him - and only if they wore hospital gowns and masks.
Eventually, nearly a year after his biopsy, he got the operation he needed - two bags worth of bone marrow stem cells from the donor. A perfect match from a 23 year old woman in the USA.
But that was just the start of Richard’s problems and months of sheer pain followed. Richard contracted a condition called Graft Versus Host Disease which caused his transplanted immune cells to attack his own body.
Doctors had to feed morphine straight into his veins to ease the suffering. At other times, he was given levels of drugs strong enough to tranquillise an elephant.
Chiara said: “At one point, Richard had three sets of wires going into his body for medication and into his stomach for food.”
Yet mysteriously, and just before Christmas last year, he began to show signs of recovery. He had to learn to walk again and has started to recover most of his weight.
“It was so hard, there were times when I just wanted to close my eyes and not wake up.
“But most of the time, I tried to stay positive. I thought to myself if I stay positive and fight it mentally, my chances would be better.”
A constant inspiration was the family which were always by his side. “They made a massive difference,” said Richard.
He is so well, he is planning to run this year’s Miles For Men charity event in Hartlepool. Last year, he had to be pushed around most of the 5k course in a wheelchair.
He still needs checks to make sure he is in remission but every sign shows he is recovering - and his health checks are about to be lengthened to every six months instead of the initial three weeks after his recovery,