Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Only The Christie could offer me the surgery I most wanted for my breast cancer, a mastectomy and a natural tissue reconstruction - Bernadette Featherstone

Bernadette Featherstone, Christie patient

Bernadette Featherstone
Last year was a very difficult year for me. My wonderful father had been diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer in June. So life was difficult enough, but then I found changes in my breast purely by accident. I discovered a thickened area to my lower breast that seemed quite large to me – around 2 to 3 cm. I had become so caught up with what was happening to my dad that my own routine health checks were very much sidelined. 

I quickly went to see my GP, who wasn't unduly concerned but referred me directly to the breast clinic. That day was very lengthy with examination by a doctor, a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy; then we had to return later in the day for the results.  

We returned at the end of clinic and met with the doctor and breast care nurse. At this point, even before they told me, I knew what was going to be said. I was told I had breast cancer and would need to be referred to a breast surgeon. 

Whilst waiting for my appointment to come through, I busied myself researching options for surgery. After I had read about the various types of surgery and possible consequences of them, I was beginning to rule out available options that I did not feel where suitable for me. 

The day came for my appointment with the breast surgeon. Following discussions regarding the biopsy results, I was offered either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, due to the size of the lump in comparison with the breast. After the appointment I was able to discuss my options further with one of the breast care nurses.

It was very important for me to reduce the risk of returning for further surgery and the offerings of implants and various types of reconstructive surgery suggested didn't offer me the long term solution I was looking for. 

Following a discussion with the breast care nurse, I enquired about any other available options. There was one further option which would involve being referred to The Christie for a DIEP flap reconstruction. This operation uses tissues from the stomach to reconstruct the breast, and although it is a much more extensive operation, it offered me the surgery that I most wanted - a mastectomy to reduce the risk and a natural tissue reconstruction. 

I was referred to The Christie and met with Mr Kosutic and a breast reconstruction specialist nurse. The operation was explained to me in great detail with the opportunity to see pictures of the surgery, and post operative photographs. I felt without doubt that this option was the best surgical option for me. 

Meeting Mr Kosutic calmed my nerves; he was so easy to talk to, reassuring and without doubt very dedicated to his patients. I had taken the opportunity to have a look at his profile online beforehand and was very impressed by what I found. 

Following an examination, I was told that I was a suitable candidate for surgery. I can honestly say that following my clinic appointment, I had no fears at all. I was calm and very reassured that I would have the best surgeon performing my operation. 

I was admitted the day before surgery so that I could be marked up in preparation for surgery the next morning. Being a patient at The Christie was a really positive experience. There was a lovely environment on the ward, with all staff members making the week’s stay as pleasant as possible. The anaesthetic team were amazing, very reassuring and helped me to have a calm demeanour as I entered the anaesthetic room. 

My stay in hospital was a week long, during which my reconstructed breast was monitored closely to ensure the tissue transplanted was a healthy colour and receiving a good blood supply. I continued to make good progress and was able to walk out of the hospital one week later. 

It has been some months now following my surgery I am absolutely delighted with the results of my breast reconstruction. Mr Kosutic is an amazing consultant, I have been truly blessed being his patient and I will be eternally grateful to him for giving me the surgery of my choice.

Monday, 18 July 2016

NHS England support means more patients will receive supportive care earlier on - Dr Richard Berman

Dr Richard Berman, Consultant in Supportive Care at The Christie and NHS England’s National Clinical Lead for Enhanced Supportive Care 

Dr Richard Berman
Enhanced Supportive Care (ESC) is a fresh and modern approach to supporting people through cancer treatment. It was invented and pioneered here at The Christie by specialists in The Supportive Care Team and I’m delighted to be involved in its national roll out as national clinical lead for this ground-breaking programme.

At its heart is better access to expertise in managing the adverse effects of cancer and cancer treatments.

And that’s good for both patients and cancer clinicians. Because timely supportive care, provided in a positive way, improves patient experience and outcomes, as well as reducing the need for hospital admission.

A successful pilot here at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust has led to NHS England’s commitment to support the roll out of ESC across cancer centres in England. 

Now, thanks to NHS England making more than £4m of financial incentives available, I’m delighted that 21 more specialist cancer centres have signed up to start delivering ESC this year, with hopefully more to come.

As National Clinical Lead for Enhanced Supportive Care, I am overseeing this integration of ESC into cancer care, ensuring that hospitals are supported to implement the guidance we have already published 

That means changes to the way palliative care and oncology teams work together in cancer centres. 

So, over the last few weeks, I have been speaking with colleagues in oncology and palliative medicine from all around the UK.  

As a simple initiative that makes sense and improves patient care, ESC has been warmly welcomed. In fact, there seems to be a real drive now to see the development of supportive care, working alongside oncology, to help provide world-leading cancer care. 

It’s a fantastic opportunity: a new image, properly resourced supportive care teams, and improved care for patients. 

Our ambition for supportive care doesn’t stop here – we will keep pushing for excellence and change. 

This is just the first of three phases: ESC II will see the expansion of ESC across all cancer types, and following that, ESC III will see these improvements in practice and collaboration between professionals spread out beyond the walls of the cancer centre, meaning patients will increasingly be able to access enhanced support closer to home.

And of course ESC is just one way in which the NHS is rising to the challenges set in the report of the Independent Cancer Taskforce, which cited the impact it had at The Christie and recommended further support for people living with and beyond cancer.

A hearty thanks to all those who are leading the way on ESC in their own centres, and I look forward to continuing to work with clinical champions throughout the country and others to improve patient experience. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

The Big C & Me - Sarah Burton

Sarah Burton, Christie fundraiser

Sarah with husband Shane
Did you watch the recent documentary about cancer on the BBC? It was called ‘The Big C & Me’ and it followed the lives of a number of difference patient with cancer at hospitals throughout the country, including The Christie.

I watched the three programmes with great interest because my husband Shane is a patient at The Christie. 

Just like all the other people featured in The Big C and Me, we had the shock of finding out that Shane had cancer. We really didn’t know what to expect on our first visit and we really didn’t expect to see so many people being treated for cancer. 

Before you go to The Christie you have no idea what to expect. You imagine that it must be a sad and morbid place. If you watched the programme you realise that this is not the case at all. 

The people receiving their chemotherapy, shown having a gossip and supporting each other is very typical of what goes on throughout the hospital. The programme really did show how people diagnosed with cancer just want to be treated normally without people feeling sorry for them.

My husband Shane and I are so grateful for what The Christie have done that we recently set up a fundraising group for The Christie, called the FlatCaps. We’re from Yorkshire - hence the name.

Members of Flatcaps
We are working hard to inspire the members of the group and are doing everything possible to explain how The Christie is such a supportive and caring place. We have asked friends to come with us when Shane has had appointments. This is because it doesn’t matter how much you try to convey how special The Christie is, nobody can really understand or believe it until they have experienced it for themselves. 

So one of the great things about The Big C & Me is that it showed how good The Christie is and it also showed how difficult it is for the family of someone who has cancer. It showed all the emotions that people experience on the cancer rollercoaster. It showed the difficult decisions that have to be made. But most of all it showed people getting on and trying to make the most of life, which is very inspiring.

Having cancer is a bit like being part of an army where everyone is fighting something inside them. Everyone’s battle is different. Everyone is wanting everyone to keep going or win. None of them thinking or believing that they are brave. 

Thank you to the patients who were featured on The Big C & Me and to The Christie and the other hospitals for allowing this programme to be filmed. An especially big thank you to the brave families of Sally and Mark who sadly lost their lives. We need more programmes like The Big C & Me to help quash the taboo that surrounds cancer.  

You can watch the final episode of The Big C & Me and clips from the whole series on BBC iplayer at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07f2gwd.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Being filmed helped me voice my personal opinions about cancer services - Bex Smalley

Bex Smalley, Christie patient and patient representative 

Bex Smalley
2015 was a big year for me as I celebrated 10 years in remission. This made me stop and think. I wanted to give back more than my annual fundraising events. So I started looking online for a more hands on approach. I wanted to help more. 

I started off by volunteering for Macmillan, leaving reviews on books and leaflets all based around cancer but I was looking for something much more hands on. Then I received an email about an organisation called Manchester Cancer and who were involved in something called a Vanguard. When I read more about this I found out that one of the aims of the Vanguard was to improve cancer care though early diagnosis and prevention around the Manchester area. I immediately knew it was something I wanted to get involved in. 

Since getting involved, I’ve had a busy time. I have been involved in lots of meetings and was asked to be in a video they were doing to show at a big eye opening event. 

The Greater Manchester Cancer Vanguard event was something that I felt very privileged to be a part of. It is very much centred on making positive changes to cancer care in Greater Manchester. To be in a room full of medical experts, chief executives and other patients who felt like me was daunting at first, but every person there made me feel welcome and an equal. They kept saying that patients are at the heart of these new services. 

Before this event I had no idea of the hard work that was going on to try to improve the system. Listening to the consultants and specialists speak with such passion for change made me very hopeful for the future. 

Being filmed helped me to voice my personal opinions about cancer services and to share my own cancer experience. 

When I was 17 years old I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. By the time I reached The Christie I was informed that it was a stage 4 cancer (the most serious). My left lung had collapsed and I had 4 tumours. 

One of them they classed as ‘bulk’ which they explained to me meant that it was larger than 13 centimetres (if my memory serves me correctly). 

This had all happened because I wasn’t taken seriously by my GP. I had visited several times over the course of around 2 years, but wasn’t referred to The Christie until the end of that period. I believe that this delay meant I needed to go through aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. 

I cannot fault the efforts of The Christie, nor the treatment given to me at the time. However, I have since found out that they no longer use the chemotherapy I was given as they have found a less invasive version. But this is just a sign of how treatment is improving. A lot of chemotherapy leaves people with side effects that they will suffer with for the rest of their lives. A common one being infertility, which is something I was warned about numerous times. However, in 2013, against all odds, I managed to welcome my daughter, Georgie into the world. 

Although I was incredibly lucky to have my daughter, the problems I faced were all due to my late diagnosis. This along with better patient aftercare is very close to my heart. 

Surprisingly, I found that after my treatment was when I needed help the most. I’m very pleased that these are some of the issues that Manchester Cancer and The Vanguard want to improve, especially early diagnosis, as this is so important in the most important thing - survival!

Being involved in such a large movement is more than I could have hoped for just a year ago and I feel very privileged to be a small part of the changes being made. It also gives me a chance to give back to the hospital, people and charities that helped save my life. 
If we can galvanise the system through experiences like my own, it almost makes my late diagnosis worth it.