Cancer survivor heads for Japan on fundraising mission

Cancer patient Nick White had a 50 per cent chance of survival when he had half his tongue removed and rebuilt using muscle from his forearm.

Five years later, he is celebrating being cancer-free by running up Mt Fuji in Japan and raising money for the research institute that treated him.

Because of his condition, the 39-year-old cannot eat anything solid while his body is under physical stress so he will be consuming hospital food to keep him going.

The Wellington man had head and neck cancer and survived on such food for two months after his eight-hour operation in 2009.


"When I woke up I wasn't able to speak, I lost my speech for a couple of weeks and then I got taught how to speak again," Mr White said.

"Then I recovered from the surgery and had radiation and lost my speech again. All of that was really hard. But I'm here today."

He had six months of radiation and chemotherapy and now has three-monthly check-ups with his surgeon, Dr Swee Tan, at the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute.

While he has regained his speech, Mr White still finds it difficult to swallow food and said this was even harder when he was tired or his body was under physical stress.

He has promised his doctors he will not try to eat while mountain running after a terrifying experience when he nearly died choking on a banana halfway through a run up Mt Tongariro.

Mr White, who is a performance manager for Trade Me, believed the toughest part of the Fuji Summit Race - which only 50 overseas tourists are accepted into each year - would be battling the altitude and the steepness as the mountain climbs.

He travels to Japan for the race on July 25. Mr White is covering his own travel expenses, but is aiming to raise $3776 - that's $1 for every metre to match the height of Mt Fuji.

The money will go to the institute to support the work it is doing to develop ways of treating cancer.

The institute's executive director, Dr Tan, said Mr White's journey through cancer treatment was "pretty hellish" and the centre was researching a technique that would end harsh treatments like his by controlling cancer stem cells, which was where cancer originated.

"He has been very courageous and has got over that hump and is enjoying life and making the most of it," Dr Tan said.

"This is a story of amazing human resilience and courage."

Up and running

Cancer attacked the right side of Nick White's tongue and three lymph glands in his neck.

1. Surgeons removed the right side of his tongue and 34 lymph glands.

2. The tongue was rebuilt by transferring skin and soft tissue taken from his left forearm.

3. The forearm defect was repaired with a skin graft taken from his thigh.