Kate Woodhead - Christie patient
So why am I lucky?
Because - I came to The Christie in 1998, aged 58, for a second opinion and was given my future back. Further investigations gave me a median survival rate of eight to 10 years (I’ve doubled that forecast) instead of the 18 months - 3 years prognosis I was given previously. I had been diagnosed initially at Leighton Hospital with Mantle Cell Lymphoma and a bone marrow biopsy showed my bone marrow was ‘grossly infiltrated with malignant cells’ according to the haematologist. Within three weeks I started on a monthly chemo regime of CHOP. What a good name for it - as I lost my hair, my strength and my resolve. Another bone marrow biopsy, three months later showed the response was minimal and a transplant was suggested. I requested/insisted on a second opinion and saw Professor Radford who did another biopsy and phoned me with the new diagnosis of Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma - which was so kind of him and I so appreciated it. I felt I had a life again.
Because - although I had had five sessions of chemotherapy over the years, I am still here and able to take part in a clinical trial of a new combination of drugs which is proving to be very successful. I’m hoping this sixth chemotherapy regime will be the last. Dr Mamat is fantastic but I don’t want to have to see him so often - if this treatment will give me five years remission I will be 83 and that will do for me.
Because - I trained as a State Registered Nurse (SRN) many years ago, and as I did phlebotomy in one of my jobs after marriage - it meant I never had a needle phobia, though my veins are not brilliant. Tracey, who takes blood in department 26, is the best I have ever had sticking needles into my arms - in and out like a dream. I am not the only patient who is always grateful to see her on duty.
Because - my husband John has been with me for every appointment and is always supportive. We treat ourselves to lunch and a glass of wine, whether the counts are good or not so good - but occasionally go to the staff canteen and enjoy the atmosphere there - a pity it isn’t licensed!
Because - my two consultants, first Professor Radford and then Dr Bloor have given me such excellent treatment over the years with such friendly caring staff in both departments. I thank my lucky stars every time I come to the hospital - I am so privileged to be treated here.
After my diagnosis, I found myself looking at people walking by me and thinking ‘how lucky they are - they don’t have cancer’. You feel so different from everyone. You feel stigmatised by the diagnosis and, of course, the word brings fears and worries. I then realised that I had joined a rather special club, one with an exorbitant joining fee, but nevertheless full of really good and interesting people.
I was a founder member and moderator for an email support group and was also asked to be a buddy by the Lymphoma Society; eventually I became pretty much a veteran. I know that for ’newbies’ who had just been diagnosed that it is encouraging to be in touch with those of us who have survived various chemotherapy regimes and are still enjoying life.
This was the best piece of luck - how much you appreciate life after you have come to terms with perhaps not making three score years and ten. Life is all the sweeter because you feared you were coming to the end of it - before you really expected the end. Though when do we ever expect it?
I am lucky because I received so much love from family members and friends that I feel my life has been worthwhile. I have always considered that love is the important element in life and I know that love will continue even after I have died - it doesn’t die with the person. Every life you touch with love gains a little from you and you gain so much in return.
But will people in the future be as lucky as I have been?
I really do hope so. It really distresses me to read of more and more pressures on the NHS. Why can’t governments recognise the need for UK residents, of every race and colour, to have a constant and good health service? Do they not realise the incredible benefit we all gain from it? Don’t they realise what a marvellous resource we have in our doctors, nurses, radiographers, physiotherapists etc etc and every other member of staff who are part of this wonderful NHS of ours. We must all fight to preserve it, it truly is worth fighting for. So rally to the cause - long live the NHS.