Neil Tull's Story

Smiling elderly male standing next to brown horse.

Sometimes an illness will reveal itself in dramatic fashion. Pain or discomfort might bring someone to their family doctor, leading to a diagnosis. Other times it can come with a whisper—like a secret the body is itching to tell. This was how Neil Tull learned of his cancer.

For 25 years, Neil enjoyed a career as Executive Vice President of Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital (TDMH). After retiring in 1996, he and his wife, Betty, bought a farm nestled between Tillsonburg and Aylmer. Over the years, he developed a passion for horseback riding and began entering reined cow horse competitions.

“In the winter of 2016, his voice started to turn rough and low the more he talked,” says Betty.

A good friend suggested Neil visit his doctor and despite not feeling ill, he took the advice. After getting referred to a local hospital, tests soon revealed squamous cancer growing around his throat. Because of the size of the mass, surgery was not an option, meaning Neil had to undergo 35 days of radiation treatment at the London Regional Cancer Program (LRCP).

“How do you thank all the people who help you in your treatment and recovery? I thought one way to show my appreciation was to make a donation to the Foundation. I wanted to help the hospital purchase equipment and supplies that could make their job easier.”


On his final day of treatment, Neil participated in the gong ceremony: a longstanding tradition in LRCP’s atrium signaling the end of a patient’s radiation therapy. Follow-up appointments with his doctors were promising. Neil thought his cancer journey was behind him. But nearly a year later, diagnostics eventually discovered another mass growing in the same spot.

The Tulls then met with oncologist, Dr. Kevin Fung Chair/Chief, Department of Otolaryngology at LHSC. He explained that since Neil had already undergone radiation treatment, it would be impossible to do so again. Surgery was now the only option, and in December 2018, Neil’s voice box had to be removed by way of a laryngectomy.

“Coming home from surgery was traumatic,” Neil recalls. “I was very weak, unable to speak and tubes had been inserted down my nose for feeding.”

Thankfully, Neil had a fantastic home support team, consisting of a physiotherapist, speech pathologist, friends and family to help him through his recovery. It was a difficult transition. Because of the surgery, Neil could no longer talk, and instead, had to rely on a writing board to communicate. However, he still wasn’t out of the woods. Within a year, the cancer returned on his neck, which had to be extracted yet again.

Despite these setbacks, Neil and Betty are extremely appreciative of Dr. Fung. “He’s always smiling and cheerful. He’s such a positive person,” Betty says. Not only is Dr. Fung a constant source of optimism and support, he’s also transparent in the treatment he provides. And because of this excellent care, the professionalism and passion from everyone Neil saw at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), he was inspired to give back.

“I have been in many hospitals throughout my career but being a patient gave me a different perspective and understanding of health care. I’m so grateful for everyone at LHSC.”


“How do you thank all the people who help you in your treatment and recovery? I thought one way to show my appreciation was to make a donation to the Foundation. I wanted to help the hospital purchase equipment and supplies that could make their job easier,” Neil explains.

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Since his last surgery in 2019, Neil has been outfitted with a voice prosthesis, which has greatly improved his quality of life. And while he can no longer compete, he still rides their horse, Zippy, every chance he gets.

“I have been in many hospitals throughout my career but being a patient gave me a different perspective and understanding of health care. I’m so grateful for everyone at LHSC.”