Paul Hunter, three-time Masters snooker champion was just 27 when he fell victim to Neuroendocrine Cancer at the peak of his powers and popularity. At just 25, he’d won the third Masters title, a feat which, at the time, had been achieved by only two other players in the world. He was dubbed the “Beckham of the Baize” because of his chiselled good looks and long, blond hair (a reference to famous footballer David Beckham).
This young age is unlike the majority of Neuroendocrine Cancer patients who are diagnosed in their later years. I took to the internet to find out more. Although there are many sites and articles confirming the link to “Neuroendocrine Tumours” in the annals of the internet, many sites state “stomach cancer” (some as late as 2017) but it’s a clue to the location of this cancer. However, I found via a snooker source (Ronnie O’Sullivan), a detailed story from his wife Lindsay providing information about this diagnosis and treatment – you can read this here but I’ll summarise the top level chronology below:
2004 – Towards the end of the year, Paul started to suffer from intermittent pains in his side.
2005 – At the beginning of that year, the pain was constant so he went to see his GP, who referred him to a consultant fearing appendicitis. An abdominal scan revealed that Paul’s appendix was fine, but there were six cysts in his abdomen. The consultant performed a laparoscopy, an outpatient procedure where the abdomen is pumped with gas and a biopsy taken. It showed that the cysts were, in fact, tumours – and they were malignant. The treatment was to be chemotherapy: ongoing cycles of three sessions of three days each.
(2 days after this diagnosis, Paul left for the China Open. It had been arranged months in advance and as he would be away just over a week he wanted to carry on as normal. Despite the diagnosis, he managed to reach the last 8).
April 2005. Paul has his first appointment with a cancer specialist. He wasn’t sure what type of cancer Paul had. He suspected either a type of germ cell tumour – the kind which occur in testicular cancer, and which are relatively easy to treat with a success rate of over 90 per cent – or neuroendocrine tumours, a type of cancer with a much poorer survival prognosis of about one in three. Author’s note: Remembering this is a statement from 2005, this would indicate to me, a poorly differentiated type. A subsequent scan ruled out a germ cell cancer, and the consultant broke the bad news that neuroendocrine tumours were the most probable diagnosis. Paul and his wife were shown the output of the laparoscopy and “It looked like there were 200 tumours, not six. They looked like Maltesers when they melt and stick together – huge masses of disgusting lumps inside the abdominal cavity“. It was agreed that Paul would start his first course of chemotherapy after the 2005 World Snooker Championships, which began in Sheffield two weeks later.
(“….this time, he did not fare as well as he did in the China open and was knocked out in the first round. Everyone knew about the cancer and it was very emotional for Paul, leaving the hall to a standing ovation, wondering when he would be back”.
(“…..By a strange twist of fate, after trying for seven months, I found out I was pregnant two days before the start of Paul’s chemotherapy”).
27th April 2005. Paul began his first course of chemo. He was to be treated with the drug combination BEP, Bleomycin/Etoposide/Cisplatin. Author’s note: To me this is another indication of a poorly differentiated tumour but I also note it was 2005 without many guidelines for therapy. Cisplatin and Etoposide are commonly used in Neuroendocrine Carcinomas. Paul was also tested for Alpha Feta Protein (AFP) which is a blood tests used to detect certain cancers. The higher the score, the bigger the tumour and this was highly elevated. Author’s note: Most medical sites state that high levels of AFP can be a sign of liver cancer or cancer of the ovaries or testicles, as well as noncancerous liver diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatitis. However, I found some case studies linked to Neuroendocrine Carcinomas.
September 2005. More chemo after a tumour marker increase. Drugs were to be administered every three weeks right through to January 2006.
April 2006. Chemotherapy changed to oxaliplatin and capecitabine.
July 2006. Markers increased, scans showed growth.
September 2006. Paul is admitted to hospice.
9th October 2006. Paul died at five to eight on the evening of October 9, five days before his 28th birthday, surrounded by his family.
What I also found out was that Neuroendocrine Cancer UK (previously NET Patient Foundation) but at that time called “Living with Carcinoid”, started a website thanks to a generous donation from Paul Hunter. In the UK, we should all remember Paul and his wife Lindsay for this donation because this embryonic organisation is now one of the most innovative and quality Neuroendocrine Cancer organisations in the world.
Rest in Peace Paul Hunter. The death of the popular Yorkshireman brought immense sadness to the snooker world and to British sport.