When Hayley Enright from Chandlers Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer, she was understandably devastated. However, as she nears the end of a year of treatment at Spire Southampton Hospital, she is singing the praises of the specialist cancer staff who have helped her on her journey.
Spire Southampton Hospital is one of only a handful of private hospitals in the UK whose patients have access to all aspects of cancer care. This includes diagnostic procedures, complex surgery, chemotherapy and radiological interventions. With radiotherapy specialists, CancerPartnersUK, on site, patients also benefit from the latest generation of image guided radiotherapy (IGRT) and intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT).
Hayley had always enjoyed good health. She kept fit using weights and a trampet at home, and regularly cycled with her husband and two children.
On Father’s Day last year, she scratched herself on her chest and noticed a small lump. Even though it wasn’t causing her any discomfort or pain, she couldn’t shake the thought that it may be serious and went to see her GP the following week.
Convinced she’d be told it was nothing to worry about, she was surprised when her GP referred her to Winchester Hospital for a mammogram. Two days later she had an ultrasound scan and biopsy, and saw Consultant Breast Surgeon, Mr Gavin Royle, who explained that the lump was cancerous. Within a week Hayley was in hospital having the lump removed.
Following the surgery, Hayley was one of the first patients to have chemotherapy at the newly opened Chalybeate Suite, a purpose-built oncology unit which had recently been opened at Spire Southampton Hospital. She said: “I already knew a bit about chemotherapy, but was given lots of information and support by the nurses. The thing I dreaded most was losing my hair as I think our hair softens and shapes our faces and can physically define us. My worry wasn’t only for me, I was concerned about the impact this would have on my children and how they would feel as I began to lose my hair. I had fairly long blonde hair so to lessen the impact, I had it cut shorter before my treatment started.”
The Spire Southampton Hospital was just six miles from Hayley’s home in Chandlers Ford, on the outskirts of the city, and she went there every week for four and a half months to have 20 chemotherapy cycles.
Hayley says: “The first eight weeks were the worst, as I was having larger doses. Even though the treatment itself only lasted a couple of hours, I found it heavy going and it pretty much knocked me out for a few days afterwards.” After that Hayley’s doses were reduced and she found the remaining 12 weeks much easier to cope with. “Oddly, I actually found the treatment sessions quite enjoyable. It became quite a social thing for me,” she explains. “The nurses are absolutely amazing, they are so supportive. They’re upbeat and optimistic, and I actually looked forward to going there to see them - although I obviously didn’t look forward to the treatment itself. “The Chalybeate Suite has individual treatment areas and, personally, I liked the privacy this gave - I could watch the telly and have a meal. But there was always the opportunity to chat to the nurses and other patients when I felt like it - it was the best of both worlds.”
Hayley works as a learning support assistant at her children’s school, and was able to work reduced hours throughout her treatment programme. “I had to be sensible and take a couple of days off following each cycle of treatment, but thanks to the fantastic support from the headteacher and colleagues, I was able to continue with as normal a life as possible. “This helped my children too. My husband and I took time to explain things to them one stage at a time and seeing me around school gave them a sense of normality. Having said that, I couldn’t wait for the Chemotherapy to end at the beginning of December, giving me just enough time to get my energy back before Christmas.” However, Hayley couldn’t get to the hospital for her final treatment cycle because of the heavy snow, and she was disappointed that the appointment had to be postponed for a week, meaning she would still be recovering in the run up to Christmas. “Despite the unit not being open the following day, Alison - one of the cancer nurses - came in on her day off to ensure my course of chemotherapy was completed on time. I was the only patient. That’s the sort of personal attention that helped get me through the treatment.”
Hayley’s chemotherapy finished, as originally planned, at the beginning of December and she was able to have a break from treatment to enjoy Christmas with her family. In the New Year, Hayley returned to Spire Southampton Hospital every day for four weeks to have radiotherapy treatment to help eradicate any possible microscopic cancer cells may have been left at the surgery site. Now under the care of Consultant Medical Oncologist, Dr Charles Hamilton, Hayley has benefited from a new generation of radiotherapy treatment provided by CancerPartnersUK. Using image guided radiotherapy (IGRT), high quality 3D images of the area were taken immediately prior to treatment which allowed better targeting of radiation over the treatment area.
Hayley says: “I got a bit sore – a bit like sunburn - but no other real side effects, which was great.” This was because CancerPartnersUK’s state-of-the-art technology precisely delivers larger doses of radiation to the tumour site while minimising the impact of radiotherapy on normal healthy tissue, thereby helping to limit side effects.
Because Hayley is one of the estimated 20% of breast cancer patients with cancer cells that produce too much of a protein called HER2, she has also been returning to the nurses in The Chalybeate Suite to have three-weekly injections of Herceptin and Hayley will continue to receive it until August this year.
“I’ve been going to the hospital regularly for a year now, and it will feel odd not going there anymore. I will miss the companionship, but know the team will still be there for me if I have any worries or concerns. I was treated by several doctors – all experts in their own field. The hospital’s breast care nurse oversaw everything, and was really valuable on the emotional side.”
Hayley is grateful for the fantastic amount of support she’s had from friends and family, but is now trying to live as normal a life as possible. “I’m just starting to feel like me again. Even though it is extremely short, my hair has almost grown long enough for me to stop wearing my wig.
“I now self-examine regularly, although I try not to be obsessive. I would urge every women to check themselves and if they have any concerns, go straight to their GP. Don’t put if off. Having been through something like this, I now think about things differently and appreciate my family and friends so much. I am enjoying life, and realise how lucky I am.”