Sailor, 19, put aggressive cancer symptoms down to his strenuous Royal Navy job

Watch: Sailor diagnosed with cancer at 19 celebrates getting the all-clear on top of Ben Nevis

A man who put his bruising and tiredness down to his demanding job was eventually diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Ciaran Daniel, 23, from Hull, was only 19 when he was told he had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which affects white blood cells, a vital part of your immune system.

Working for the Royal Navy in the Persian Gulf, undertaking anti-piracy and anti-drug operations, he initially brushed off the symptoms he was experiencing.

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Ciaran Daniel, who was later diagnosed with cancer, in uniform working in the Navy. (PA Real Life)
Sailor Ciaran Daniel initially disregarded his cancer symptoms. (PA Real Life)

"It was a physically demanding job so when I noticed that I was bruising a lot, I just assumed it was due to the nature of my role," Daniel explains. “I was experiencing a lot of tiredness too but that was easily explained by how demanding my job was.”

It wasn't until he noticed blood in his urine that made him concerned enough to seek medical advice.

“I was sent to a private hospital in Dubai where they did blood tests," he says. When the results came back, they didn’t know how I’d even managed to walk into the building, my blood levels were so low. In hindsight, I think it was the fact that I was very healthy and physically fit that had kept me going.”

Ciaran Daniel while working in the Navy. (PA Real Life)
Daniel was working in the Persian Gulf when he started to notice something wasn't right. (PA Real Life)

He then had a bone marrow biopsy that revealed exactly what was wrong with him. “They broke the news to me on New Years Eve 2018, that I had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia," Daniel recalls.

“Because of the drugs I had for the biopsy, I was pretty out of it when I rang my family and I told them I had leprosy. My doctor took the phone off me and had to break the news to them.”

He adds, "I remember seeing the Burj Khalifa [known as the world's tallest building] from my hospital room lit up for the New Year and thinking about how it hadn’t turned out to be the day I’d planned. At 19 you think you’re invincible so to find out I had cancer was completely shocking.”

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Ciaran on a ship when working in the Navy. (PA Real Life)
Daniel thought his symptoms were just a result of working in the Navy. (PA Real Life)

On January 4, 2019, Daniel was flown from Dubai to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where he was met by his family.

He then spent seven weeks at the hospital being treated with intensive chemotherapy, with his parents staying in Fisher House accommodation on hospital grounds so he could see them daily.

“I was having chemo intravenously, through tablets and spinal injections. It was intense and, at first [his adventurous side later kicked in], it wiped me out. I just slept constantly," says Daniel.

After the testing few weeks, he himself then moved into the accommodation, still visiting the hospital daily for treatment. “I stayed there until October 2019, when I was finally able to go back to Hull, returning for monthly appointments while continuing the chemo through tablets at home," he explains.

With his story taking a positive turn, Daniel's chemotherapy treatment came to an end in May this year, after he got the all-clear from cancer.

In fact, the sailor (who had, admirably, hiked and kayaked through his cancer treatment) celebrated getting the all-clear by taking his final chemo tablet on the top of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland.

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Ciaran on top of Ben Nevis in May 2022, where he took his last chemo tablet. (PA Real Life)
Daniel climbed Ben Nevis in May 2022, where he took his last chemo tablet. (PA Real Life)

“Even while I was having intravenous chemo, I was still out and doing active things that you probably shouldn’t do on that sort of treatment, but I couldn’t stay still," he explains. “I was climbing, kayaking, surfing and hiking. It kept me occupied and upbeat during the tough time.”

And he adds, “When I reached the top of Ben Nevis in May, I got a reminder on my phone to take my medication, which is when I realised I had just one chemo tablet left. It was the perfect place to end my treatment.”

Daniel hadn't actually intended to climb the mountain that day. “A friend and I had planned to go to Scotland for the weekend to do some walking. We brought all our hiking gear with us, even though we weren’t planning to do anything strenuous," he explains. “But we reached the foot of Ben Nevis, looked at each other and said, ‘why not?’”

Daniel and his friend hiked up the 1,345m-high mountain in the Scottish Highlands and, reaching the top, he heard his phone ping. "I had just one chemo tablet left and figured the top of Ben Nevis was just as good of a place to finish my treatment as any," he adds. “My friend filmed me taking my last tablet, which marked the end of my three-year journey with cancer.”

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Ciaran Daniel on top of Ben Nevis. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Daniel at the top of Ben Nevis earlier this year. (PA Real Life)

Since the pivotal moment in his life earlier this year, Daniel's scans have thankfully come back clear and he is now focused on raising awareness for a charity very close to his heart.

“The Teenage Cancer Trust unit was spot on, and the staff helped save my life," he says. “They’ve also been a great support for me, helping me through things that I didn’t want to bother my family with.

“Teenage Cancer Trust is an amazing charity that has helped me so much, and I want to raise awareness of what they do.”

As well as feeling tired and breathless and easily bruised skin, like Daniel did, symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia include pale skin, repeated infections over a short time, unusual and frequent bleeding, high temperature, night sweats, bone and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, tummy pain, unintentional weight loss and a purple skin rash.

For more information on how to get support visit the Teenage Cancer Trust.

You can also call Macmillan's support line on 0808 808 00 00 every day 8am-8pm, or Cancer Research UK's nurse freephone helpline on 0808 800 4040, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Additional reporting PA.

Ciaran Daniel with the Teenage Cancer Trust staff. (PA Real Life)
Daniel with the staff at Teenage Cancer Trust who he says helped save his life. (PA Real Life)