He was the titan of our ITV editorial staff, loving nothing more than to be at the center of a groundbreaking story.
For years we watched our editor Geoff Hill spring into action as the world’s biggest events unfold, from the horrors of the terror attacks in London and Manchester to the Brexit referendum.
Then came the most heartbreaking news: in September 2017 he was diagnosed with leukemia, after visiting his GP for a routine blood test.
He was sent to the emergency room, where he was warned that he had the disease. We were all beaten aside.
Since then, Geoff, 52, has defied all odds as he bravely endured the most grueling treatments, including a stem cell transplant, 100 rounds of chemotherapy, 38 bone marrow biopsies, grueling radiotherapy and taking more than 6,000 pills.
No one suspected that anything was seriously wrong. Then suddenly he was told that he could have been dead within hours. Geoff Hill is pictured above with Mary Nightingale
There was also a severe bout of sepsis that nearly killed him.
And as if things couldn’t get any worse for my dear friend, six weeks ago, after a seizure, Geoff was placed in an artificial coma—which the doctors thought would never get out of it.
Smiling in the yard of the house he shares with his wife, Natalie, my former boss tells of the chaos that came over his life after that fateful day. I am honored to help him raise awareness of this miserable disease during Blood Cancer Awareness Month.
He’s not out of the woods, and his best hopes are to take part in a CAR-T trial in which his immune-supporting T cells have been genetically engineered to attack cancer cells.
“A few hours before I ended up in the hospital, I was chairing the daily News At Ten editorial meeting,” Geoff says.
Natalie describes Geoff’s bouts of apparent recovery followed by severe relapses and treatment as a ‘roller coaster’
“Then, sitting in a hospital room, I saw my work suit hanging on the door while a stranger’s blood was being transfused into my body. That’s how quickly life can change.
‘The weekend before my diagnosis I went to a football game, the theater and the pub. I didn’t know that my immune system was virtually nonexistent.’
But Geoff’s editorial instinct kicked in and he knew he had to treat his illness “as the most difficult task.”
He adds, “One of the clinical nurse practitioners said, ‘This is your new office.’ ‘
His diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia came as a shock to me. But looking at work emails from before he was diagnosed, I noticed he said he was feeling tired.
But no one suspected that anything was seriously wrong. Then suddenly he was told that he could have been dead within hours.
“I was out of breath, sweating and had no energy, but you don’t think you have blood cancer. Nobody does. But the signals are really important,” explains Geoff.
“The smallest virus could have killed me. If anyone had sneezed, it could have been. My immune system was totally compromised.
“When I arrived at Lewisham Hospital, I was told to prepare that it was leukemia. The doctor said, ‘Whatever you do, for your own good, don’t Google it. There are so many different types of blood cancer.’ And I never have.’
The harsh reality is that someone in the UK is diagnosed with a blood cancer every 14 minutes. It is one of Britain’s biggest cancer killers, killing 15,000 every year. It is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with over 40,000 people diagnosed with it each year and 250,000 living with the disease in the UK.
Natalie describes Geoff’s periods of apparent recovery followed by severe relapses and treatment as a “roller coaster.”
After chemo and a failed stem cell transplant, he returned to the editorial office in August 2018. There was cheering at ITN’s headquarters in central London that day.
He’s not out of the woods, and his best hopes are to take part in a CAR-T trial in which his immune-supporting T cells have been genetically engineered to attack cancer cells. “A few hours before I ended up in the hospital, I was chairing the daily News At Ten editorial meeting,” Geoff says.
In March 2019, he spent a month in the hospital with sepsis that nearly killed him. But he recovered and became strong enough to go to the gym and play golf.
A year later, his central nervous system collapsed, just as he was about to go back to work, then came the debilitating radiotherapy — and the discovery that the cancer was in his bone marrow.
It was now September 2020 and Geoff tells me, “I felt like I was back to square one.”
Then came the second most heartbreaking part of his journey – after his diagnosis. He decided to step down as editor of ITV News, a job he used to describe himself. He says, “It was the cruelest thing. I was about to return – but after my relapse I knew I had to do it.
“There is nothing more shocking than being diagnosed with leukemia. But in some ways this blow was right.’
Geoff has always been a bustling dynamo of ideas and action. It’s shocking to see that unstoppable energy slowing down. But leukemia has not diminished his determination. Geoff just doesn’t like defeat.
Earlier this year, he and Natalie, who also works for ITN, married near their home in South East London. The former workaholic also has a new outlook on life
Last October, a scan showed that more radiation was needed. Two more rounds of chemotherapy followed. Another relapse in his central nervous system was discovered, leading to more chemotherapy.
“The procedures started to get unbearable,” he says. “But I can’t say enough about the team at King’s College Hospital. I wouldn’t be here without them. They really guide you mentally. They said, ‘It goes step by step’ – and we really learned that.’
Then came his seizure that put him in a coma. Few expected that he would still be with us.
Looking ahead, he is now hopeful to participate in the CAR-T trial. He is supported by a group of women I call Geoff’s Angels: Natalie, his mother Pauline, daughter Emily, her mother Jules (Geoff’s ex) and his sister Laura.
His brother-in-law Lee organized a virtual 500km run from Selhurst Park – home of Geoff’s football team Crystal Palace – to Paris. They ran 10 miles daily until they reached the full distance, raising a total of £38,000. Success was notable for the Cure Leukemia charity, which asked Geoff to become a trustee.
Geoff – father of Emily, 20, Olivia, ten, and Alfie, nine – says: “With the Cure Leukemia-funded Trials Acceleration Program, there is hope for patients with a currently incurable form of the disease.”
Earlier this year, he and Natalie, who also works for ITN, married near their home in South East London. The former workaholic also has a new outlook on life.
He says: ‘I learned how much I took for granted. Family and friends. Relationships. Really being in the room is the most important thing.’
Go to cureleukaemia.co.uk if you want to make a donation.