Celebrating survival on World Cancer Day 2019

01 February 2019

Being diagnosed with cancer can be frightening, but more people are surviving for longer, with a better quality of life after treatment. But don’t take our word for it – we are lucky at Spire Dunedin to have past patients who will vouch for the quality of care and treatment they have received. One such patient wrote the following for World Cancer Day 2019:

“From the beginning of August 2008 I had recurring aches in my neck and shoulder, which were initially diagnosed as pain from accidental dislocations due to falling off horses! Over the following three months I received physio treatment that seemed to be chasing the pain. On the 28th November, following a night of excruciating pain in my neck, I went to my GP, Dr Prabhakar at the Swallowfield practice. He asked questions about the pain, the flu-like symptoms, and whether I had night sweats and weight loss.  The answer to all but the weight loss was yes, but as I'm 6'2" and normally weigh 68kg there was no weight to loose!

He immediately sent me to A&E for an X-ray with strict instructions to make sure I didn't leave without the results. He said that it might be a "collapsed lung" or "pleurisy" and he needed an urgent report, but he had his real suspicion. The radiologist in A&E grumbled about the urgent request but upon seeing the screen dispatched me back to the GP.

An hour later at 3.30 pm on the 28th November 2008, the GP told me that in his opinion I had Cancer - time to get on the roller coaster!!!

I saw Dr Jane Barrett at the Royal Berkshire Hospital who commenced the testing process immediately. There was a grapefruit sized mass inside my rib-cage, which was pressing out from the chest causing the shoulder/neck pain. The NHS wanted me as a patient as I was otherwise very fit, with a positive attitude, and I was therefore going to make a perfect recovery statistic - quite a recommendation!

Up to this point, all the diagnosis was carried out within the NHS, as the oncologists all recommended that everything could progress faster if I didn't mind roughing it (!). I can't praise the NHS strongly enough for their efficiency and care. They went to the extreme of getting me admitted to Guys Hospital in London for the invasive biopsy the week before Christmas as Reading couldn't do the procedure until a week later.

After a whirlwind month of investigations, on Christmas Eve, Dr Barrett gave me the full prognosis: - Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma, Thymus - Nodular Sclerosis - Type 1 - LCA(-), CD20(+), CD30(+), CD15(+), MUM-1(+), MIB-1(+)

Having received the diagnosis through the NHS, for the treatment pathway I switched to BUPA, as I had health insurance with them. I was recommended this track as having a private room for the procedures would minimise infection risk and I would have access to the best medication. Treatment was to be 6 months of ABVD chemotherapy, every other week, to start on the 9th Jan 2009 at the Spire Dunedin Hospital, still under Dr Barrett.

A very tough 6 months was made so much easier with exemplary care from the team at Spire Dunedin. The constant revisions made to the supplemental drug regimen, to manage the side effects of the chemotherapy, was amazing. The quiet and calm atmosphere in the hospital with the ever professional staff could not be faulted.

I was PET scanned at the middle and end of treatment, in August 2009, and both scans indicated that the tumour had shrunk. My blood markers were also constantly improving. The grapefruit sized mass had shrunk to a Cocktail Sausage. By January 2010 the PET scan showed there were no detectable cancerous cells. I was continually scanned until January 2013 and last blood tested in July 2014. Dr Barret and the team then give me a clean report. I was not to return unless I felt a reoccurrence of any symptoms. I’d survived!

I cannot imagine that anywhere else in the world, or any other team, could have improved upon the administration of the chemotherapy and the associated diagnostics. I was always made to feel like an individual with a personal support team, never just another patient. I also cannot stress how important it is to catch any Cancer as early as possible. The diagnosis should not be feared - it might prove to be just a scare. And if an individual is diagnosed with Cancer, the care that I witnessed helps all parties through the tough times. It is the teams, such as the ones at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and the Spire Dunedin Hospital, and the relationship between the hospitals that help there to be more of us survivors every year."

Dr Jane Barrett retired in 2014 and was awarded an OBE for her services to Oncology that year. From 2010 to 2013 Dr Barrett was the president of The Royal College of Radiologists – the professional body responsible for the speciality of clinical oncology and clinical radiology throughout the UK. She was the first female president of the RCR, as well as the first president to be selected from the Faculty of Clinical Oncology. Many of the staff who worked with her continue to do so, at Spire Dunedin Hospital.

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