An RAF Reservist and intensive care nurse diagnosed with incurable cancer has spoken of how the love and support he has received from his RAF family has left him feeling bowled over.
Flight Lieutenant James Iddon, who is also an NHS Intensive Care Unit nurse, told how his fellow reservists from the RAF Medical Reserves 4626 Squadron - the only aeromedical evacuation squadron unit in the RAF Reserves - “barely took time to draw breath” before asking what they could do to help after learning of his cancer diagnosis. He added:
“We come together in times of adversity, I was blown away by that.”
His fellow reservists sprang into action to take on fundraising challenges to raise money for a charity close to Flt Lt Iddon's heart, ‘Above & Beyond’, a charity that raises funds for Bristol city centre hospitals.
Flt Lt Iddon's life was turned upside down following his diganosis which had been all the more shocking to him because he had been at what he had thought was the height of fitness, as he dreamed of running an ultra-marathon.
However, just following Christmas in 2019, Flt Lt Iddon felt a lump in his neck but at first he did not get it checked out.
He and his NHS colleagues had been preparing for the biggest challenge of their careers as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, when he finally went to get the lump checked out in March 2020.
On April 5, 2020, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma.
He was told to isolate himself from the outside world as he was now one of the most vulnerable patients during a pandemic – a cancer patient in need of intense and life-changing treatment.
Speaking with broadcaster Amy Casey, of BFBS, the Forces Station, about his devastating diagnosis, he said:
"I went from being a nurse and dedicating my life to looking after others to it being the other way round and suddenly, I was on the receiving end of lots of treatments, a lot of care.”
Flt Lt Iddon is marking 10 years of exceptional military service this year.
Anyone injured in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick might have found that the Reservist could have been one of the RAF Aeromed nurses who flew them home.
Flt Lt Iddon might have been one of the intensive care nurses who treated many people with serious illness at a North Bristol NHS Trust hospital.
The man who had saved countless lives during his career now needed his treatment himself.
After intense rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and eventually a radical neck dissection - which was major surgery during the COVID pandemic due to the risks of exposure to Coronavirus - Flt Lt Iddon started to think that by January 2021 he would be “within a hair’s breadth of being given the all-clear”.
He was feeling well and eager to get back to running and train for the epic London Marathon in order to raise money for Above & Beyond. This was his way of giving something back after being looked after so well. He said:
“The irony is that the charity is called ‘Above And Beyond’ and I think it just sits so beautifully with the ethos of the Royal Air Force.
“We come together in times of adversity.”
Shortly after, James received the news that the cancer had spread from his neck to his lungs and was incurable.
At the time, he felt very fit and was training for a marathon but slowly the realisation kicked in that his breathing was starting to suffer and he was not going to be able to run an ultra-marathon.
How Was He Supported By His RAF Family?
His colleagues and friends in the squadron, knowing how keen Flt Lt Iddon was to raise money for ‘Above & Beyond’, started fundraising on his behalf.
Initially, Flt Lt Iddon wanted to raise £2,000 but as soon as his squadron got involved, he knew they were going to be able to exceed that.
The target is now set at £10,000 and on July 11, 2021, the team, as individuals, completed a marathon by either running, cycling or walking to raise the money for Above & Beyond, bringing the total raised to, at the time of writing, £7,174.64.
But the support he and his family feel goes beyond fundraising. The desire of his colleagues to take on challenges has inspired his family and given them comfort at such an uncertain and traumatic time in their lives.
The cancer diagnosis has had a profound impact on his wife and children as well so for them to see their husband and dad’s colleagues dedicate so much of their time to help him has blown them away.
"For them to hear the stories of my colleagues saying ‘this is for your dad, this is your husband that's inspiring us to do this’.
“Actually, that's a real comfort to me, that they’re saying that.”
But it is not just his reserve colleagues supporting him at this difficult time. The Tactical Medical Wing from Brize Norton has taken on a marathon challenge, this time on treadmills in the hangar at RAF Brize Norton.
Flt Lt Iddon has also received messages from regulars with whom he has deployed during his RAF career. He says that support like this is very rare in the civilian world, saying:
“It doesn't happen anywhere else that I’ve ever seen, or I’ve ever come across other than as part of the military family.”
Want to help Flt Lt Iddon reach his fundraising goal? Visit his JustGiving page to donate.