The chief reporter at the Manchester Evening News has penned a moving account of his ongoing battle with cancer.
Neal Keeling penned the article for the paper, where he has worked for 25 years, following an operation to remove his left kidney, which was surrounded by a tumour.
Three weeks after the surgery, he was given more bad news when he was told the tumour was the most aggressive kind and he now faces further treatment because spots of cancer are believed to be on his lungs.
In the piece, Neal thanked journalists at the MEN for their support, whom he described as “the family that possesses my soul”.
Neal told HTFP he had been overwhelmed by the phonecalls, emails and texts he had received since the piece was published by the MEN, which he had written to help him cope and to thank those who have supported him.
In his article, he wrote about how he had started to feel ill three days after going to see Manchester City play against Porto FC with his son Patrick in March.
Neal had initially shrugged it off as a virus but by the beginning of April had chronic fatigue, night sweats, and a loss of appetite and weight.
He wrote about how Lymphoma was suspected at first and he was referred to a haematologist, before having a CT scan which revealed a tumour seven centimetres by six around his kidney.
In the article, Neal said: “Two weeks later it had been taken out. The experience awakened a long dormant part of me.
“During 30 years as a journalist in Bury, Bolton, Salford and Manchester I have turned from a green, naive, dizzy young buck into at times a cynical, mistrusting, battle-scarred brute. Dealing with the worst of human behaviour on a daily basis while covering crime leaves a mark.
“When a positive story crossed my desk it was like the warmth of the summer sun piercing my armour. Like the Manchester cop who gave his crucifix to a 76-year-old stabbing victim as she lay bewildered, hurt, and terrified.
“Now the vicious tumour has triggered in me an almost evangelical new faith in the human race. The love of my wife and children is a rock.
“The Maine Road raised humour of my son a daily boost. ‘See ya still milking it dad. When you going back to work?’
“Mates I have known since my school days in the Black Country drove north to visit me. Prayers were said for me at the Methodist church ‘back home’ where as a lad I fidgeted through sermons, chased girls, and stuck bubblegum under the pew. Still the elders of Walsall Central Hall Mission saw fit to pitch for me. Thanks to a good man from Bolton, an Imam is praying for me in a mosque.
“My fragmented extended family suddenly came together. Cards arrived from aunts uncles and cousins – and I had a heartbreaking note from my ‘little sister’ in New Zealand.
“And then there is the family that possesses my soul – the Manchester Evening News. Support flowed from the fearless, talented ‘kids’ of the newsroom willing me to pull through.
“Their backing turned the new Bruce Springsteen song ‘We Take Care of Our Own’ into an anthem of hope for me.”
Neal was also full of praise for the staff who cared for him after his operation and the NHS generally, which is “giving me a chance to survive”.