Monday, 25 January 2016

People in Oldham have access to the best possible care and fantastic dedicated staff at The Christie at Oldham - Councillor Yasmin Toor

Councillor Yasmin Toor - Mayoress of Oldham

Councillor Yasmin Toor, Mayoress of Oldham
I have always wondered what happens inside the beautiful, big purpose built building that is The Christie at Oldham. Whenever I walked or drove past this amazing looking glass building lots of questions kept going on in my mind. I always wondered what life is like behind those mysterious doors. 

The Christie at Oldham treats cancer patients so it is very easy to imagine lots of people with sad faces that have lost hope for life. I worried that there were bed bound patients and my eyes filled with tears of sadness. Worrying about their lost hopes made me very upset.  

Thinking about this made me realise how precious life is and how important and meaningful relationships are. One minute we plan a full life and then the word ‘cancer’ can change everything – affecting our personality, relationships and lifestyle.

So my visit to The Christie at Oldham, with my husband, the Mayor of Oldham, during the autumn was a very ‘special’ visit. I stepped into the building with lots of questions, emotions and many different feelings.

The sun was shining above us and I took some sunshine with me so I could be strong. We were greeted by a very friendly face at the reception. There were a couple of patients sitting waiting for their appointment who we said hello to and our wonderful local Oldham Chronicle newspaper photographer Tony was there too.

Julie Davies, the Lead Radiographer at The Christie at Oldham, formally welcomed us and with the head of communications helped to show us round. The local newspaper wanted to take a quick photo and then we were shown around by two wonderful ladies, Julie and Maggie.

The atmosphere was very calm; everything was so clean and tidy. The colour choices were fantastic and the walls, paintings and seats were amazing. It didn’t feel like a hospital at all. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I became very relaxed, all my fears slowly started fading away and I started looking forward to the rest of my tour.

Each corridor, each room was very peaceful. We were shown the whole of the building, including the open, spacious, caring and calm reception area, the wide corridors, the complementary therapy room and the treatment rooms. Everything under one roof.  

We were even taken to this beautiful garden where patients can enjoy the beauty of nature.  “This is my Rose Garden” a very proud voice touched my ears as we were walking by. It was Julie`s voice, who was showing us around. I looked up and she was pointing to lots of beautiful framed photos of all the staff, in burgundy colour uniform, smiling faces, all displayed on a big window sill. How nice is that to compliment your dedicated staff. Their expertise and their skills can make a huge difference in someone’s life. The tests and treatments they do can save someone’s life, and can make a big difference in a family`s life.  
We were shown the expensive machines and treatment rooms, and saw how the staff are dedicated to their work, with a very carefully measured approach towards everything.

They make very good use of modern technologies in their training /conference rooms, with video link training for meetings. They work hard to provide the highest standard of care and take care of every possible angle so patient don’t suffer any more than what they have already been through. The patients are in very safe hands.   

I also learned that patients visiting The Christie in Oldham can use a dedicated free car park. How wonderful is that, to take away the extra stress and pressure not only financially but emotionally too from the patients and their carers. How nice is it to offer them everything they need under one roof, with the best care in the form of modern machines and comfortable chairs, so they can keep their dignity and respect and keep their will power going. Patients sometime choose to sit on the comfortable sofa style chairs rather than lying down on a bed where they might feel more ill, more sick and more in pain. 

In the complimentary therapy room, not only the patient but their carer can have a quick soothing treatment done. 

And patients can go to the information centre to get lots of relevant advice, help and support e.g. about their cancer or the benefits they may be entitled to. So patients or their carers don’t have to run around too many places for information.

Doctors, consultants and other staff also make use of the purpose built meeting/training/conference facilities to save travel time by using the video link if required.

At the end of this life changing tour, both myself and my husband are very happy that The Christie at Oldham is one of our chosen charities for the year.

We were both very pleased as people, as Councillors and as the Mayor and Mayoress to know that people in Oldham have access to such wonderful resources. They have the best possible care and fantastic dedicated staff. Most of all, we learned that The Christie at Oldham can give hope to a person who has lost hope. 

I want to thank everyone at The Christie at Oldham from the bottom of my heart and salute all health professionals who are making a big difference in people’s lives. I want to especially thank our hosts who showed us around and gave us all the information we needed. And I want to thanks the press who followed us all the way and who understand the importance of the place, taking great photographs to help their readers understand how lucky we are to have this facility.

Monday, 18 January 2016

I lost the sight in my right eye, my sense of smell and had a diminished taste - Graeme Heward

Graeme Heward - Christie patient and fundraiser

Graeme Heward
Five years ago, aged 50, I was going about my daily life, working as a physiotherapist, being father to two boys entering their last few years of school education, playing squash and generally enjoying life. It’s perhaps a stage in many people’s lives when they think of enjoying the fruits of their labour and taking life a little easier, however, my life was about to endure a twist.

The only thing that alerted me that an ‘Alien’ passenger had entered my life was a watering eye. The ‘Alien’ and me, plus a multitude of medical staff from The Christie and other hospitals in Manchester were about to commence a battle. I remember in those early days when my whole life was shaken into sudden turmoil, being so grateful that The Christie, with its wealth of expertise and facilities, was there to support me, my partner and family.

I had been diagnosed with a sinonasal adenocarcinoma following a scan and subsequent operation to remove the tumour, which at the time was thought to be benign. It’s a rare tumour affecting 1 in 100,000 people. Situated in my nasal lining, the tumour had expanded and grown to such an extent that it had fractured my delicately thin bony eye orbit.

As the ‘Alien’ took over, I lost the sight in my right eye, my sense of smell and had a diminished taste. 

Fifteen operations later, following muscle and skin grafts from thigh and abdomen, an autoimmune reaction, two episodes of radiotherapy and one course of chemotherapy; and having completed a gruelling charity fundraising bike ride I was ready to write a book – ‘Riding With The Alien’.

As a physiotherapist, I was in a unique position to see my care from both a patient and a medical perspective. I felt a responsibility, particularly with such a rare condition, to pass on my experience so that other patients and medical professionals could learn from it and see the whole patient picture.  

My book has been written entirely by me in easily understandable language and terminology. I hope it’s an enthralling story that draws you in with emotion and snippets of humour. 

Offering hope and inspiration to sufferers of any kind, it affords an opportunity for family and friends to gain a greater understanding of the patient’s perspective. For those who are sometimes guilty of taking life and good health for granted, it’s a fascinating ‘ride’.

The rollercoaster, with its ups and downs is a theme throughout my book. I explain in detail each operation and many of the consultations and procedures. I describe the effect it had on my health, relationships, finances, occupation and how it nearly forced me and my family out of our home. Through his time my family and I had to cope with incessant battles with the ‘Alien’ and rationalise the prospect of death.

Without the input of the fantastic medical staff, my friends and patients, I would certainly not be here today, nor would my two boys and myself have been able to undertake a challenging bike ride and climb that served not only to raise money for both The Christie and Macmillan, but also became a focus for my recovery.

I was encouraged to write this book by many people, my own patients and the doctors who have treated me, who, having read my internet blog, thought it worthy of a wider audience.  

Recently, I came through my first clear annual scan in four years. I’m going about my daily life now, working as a physiotherapist, being father to both sons who are now studying medicine at Manchester University, playing squash and cycling regularly. Life is a little more difficult now, especially with the loss of my eye, but it has also been enriched by meeting so many fabulous people. 

‘Riding With The Alien’ is available from Amazon in paperback (£7.99) or Kindle (£3.99). Profit from the book sales will go to The Christie.

Monday, 11 January 2016

We are trying to improve the benefit patients receive in Phase I trials by selecting treatments specific to their cancer type - Dr Emma Dean

Dr Emma Dean - Consultant in Medical Oncology

Dr Emma Dean - Consultant in Medical Oncology
The Experimental Cancer Medicine Team specialises in treating patients in Phase I Clinical Trials. These trials help us find out if a new drug is safe and has side effects, as well as how much of the drug can be given safely and whether the drug is effective against cancer. 

Treatments are experimental and unproven and there can be risks, but these are managed by treating small numbers of patients with strict safety controls and regular reviews in clinic.

One of the things that always surprises me is patients’ reasons for wanting to take part in a clinical trial. You would expect that for most patients it is the chance to receive, and possibly benefit from, a new treatment when they have limited or no further treatment options available. This is one reason, but another is to ‘give something back to research’ to benefit patients in the future.

Our patients are referred by their oncologists, and I always like to see new patients at an early stage (even while they are still receiving other cancer treatments), so we can assess their suitability and prepare for the possibility of a clinical trial. We receive referrals from within The Christie, Greater Manchester and from across the UK – the patient’s oncologist will advise if a referral is appropriate.

A trial must be carefully explained and written information provided to patients. It is entirely the patient’s decision whether or not to take part. Before we can start treatment, patients must provide written consent and undergo a series of tests to check that they are suitable for any given clinical trial. There are frequent hospital appointments to ensure the safety of the patient, and often long days in hospital when we take blood samples to measure the effect of the new drug on the body and try to learn more about the drug. The start of treatment can be an anxious time and patients may experience some side-effects which require management.

We are trying to improve the benefit patients receive in Phase I trials by selecting treatments specific to their cancer type. This is usually done by looking at the genes in a biopsy specimen, but we are also investigating whether we can also look at the DNA of tumour cells that may be circulating in the bloodstream. This research is not easy and because the technology is new, it is expensive for us to fund. We also need to work with lots of companies to provide the experimental drugs to ensure that, if we do find a genetic aberration in a patient sample, we can do something about it and offer our patients access to drugs which may not be widely available.

Successful drug development depends on effective collaboration with scientists from academic institutions such as The University of Manchester, CRUK, the UK network of Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres and pharmaceutical companies. The most challenging aspect of my job is when we don’t have a trial slot immediately available and a patient has to wait for a clinical trial. Also, telling a patient when a treatment is not working. The best part of my job is when a patient tells me that they are glad to have taken part in a trial and that they have been well looked after by our team of dedicated staff, even if the outcome is not positive. Of course, it is thrilling when a patient responds well to a new treatment, probably the first sign in the world that the drug could be a successful treatment in the future.

To find out more about phase one trials at The Christie please follow this link.