Tuesday, 30 August 2016

I am so grateful that my oncologist and surgeon supported my decision to continue working - Geraldine Leydon

Geraldine Leydon, Christie Patient

Geraldine Leydon
I have just turned 50, feel very content and have so much to look forward to. My husband Tommy, our two girls and I are currently in New Zealand, part of a travelling fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to research international best practice in early years care and education.  

It seems a long, long time since the night in 2011 when my husband and I were given some difficult news that left us dazed, that I had cancer.

I had made a number of visits to my GP with what could in hindsight be described as atypical symptoms.  Eventually I happened upon Professor Gordon Carlson, who advised a precautionary colonoscopy. The colonoscopy helped to diagnose a very aggressive bowel cancer, more specifically a T4 N0 bowel cancer. 

It came as a huge shock at 45 years old, particularly as there was no previous history of cancer in my family.  

It was a trying circumstance for obvious reasons, which coincided with me changing jobs. 
In hindsight however, this proved to be a useful distraction from the ongoing treatment. My surgeon and oncologist were remarkably positive and motivating people, urging me to work as I wanted to and felt able. 

The new job, gave the family as a whole something else to focus on outside of the cancer bubble in which we felt encircled. Interestingly, I did not find that this was something that some people understood.   

Some people suggested that I might want to give up work. For me, I chose to work part-time, as that was right for my family and I at that point in our lives. 

I went to Salford Royal for my colorectal surgery under the care of Prof Carlson and the treatment was first rate. There were very structured and focused opportunities to prepare for what the treatment had in store for me. 

This was followed up with six months of chemotherapy at The Christie under the diligent care of Dr Mark Saunders. The Christie is an infamous institution and was known to me, as I am local to the hospital and passed it and its visitors regularly.  

Becoming one of ‘those people’ who needed to go there was one of the most unexpected and hardest feelings that I had to overcome.  However, those feelings passed remarkable quickly and my monthly visits became part of life’s routine.  

Now, five years on, I have gained a distinction in my Master’s in Education Degree and I have been accepted onto the Educational Doctorate. 

Most exciting of all is the travelling fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. I have travelled to Germany to observe a programme called Baby Watching and I am now in New Zealand visiting universities, the world famous Dunedin project and preschool settings working with the Te Whariki curriculum. 

Geraldine and family in New Zealand
I hope that cancer patients reading this will be inspired and that it will give them hope. I am so grateful that my oncologist and surgeon supported my decision to continue working. My work is my passion (family excluded) and I feel glad I did not give up work as that was the right decision for me.

And of course whilst I am in New Zealand and Australia with Tommy and my gorgeous girls we are having a little holiday!

Geraldine's blog is at http://eyfs.info/forums/topic/46559-travelling-fellowship-research-study-in-new-zealand-and-germany/

Monday, 22 August 2016

As I walk into the hospital as an art room volunteer I feel the optimistic happy atmosphere - Lin Sinclair

Lin Sinclair, Christie art room volunteer

Lin Sinclair
A few years ago my mother came to The Christie to be treated for cancer for about six weeks. She had intensive radiotherapy virtually every day which made her very red and sore.

She told me the nurses used to put cream on her to ease the pain and rawness, and how gentle they were with her. The doctors were also marvellous with her and very sympathetic.

Mum had always said she was a coward, but she was the opposite, she was very courageous, she accepted what she had to go through, and got on with it. She was amazing.

I visited mum every day at The Christie, on my way home from work, which was 40 miles away. It was a really stressful time, but I knew she was in the safest place she could possibly be. I had total faith in The Christie.

As soon as I walked through the hospital entrance I felt calm and peaceful. This feeling has never changed, and carried on when I became a volunteer a few years later.

I think this feeling started from the initial consultation with the doctor. She said to mum “I think we can help you, and get rid of the cancer,” and I believed her.

Eventually mum's skin completely healed and the doctor told her she was cured. They actually used that word, the cancer had gone and they didn’t think it would come back. I couldn’t believe it. But they were right, it didn’t come back.

Before I retired, I had The Christie in the back of my mind, as a place I’d like to work as a volunteer.

I began by doing surveys about the patient experience at The Christie. This could be on the wards themselves or in different parts of the hospital.

I found it fascinating because patients wanted to talk. One teenage boy said to me that the nurses on his ward were more of a family to him than his own family. Even now, I cannot think about that without being extremely moved.

It’s like that through the whole hospital, everyone says the same thing. They all praise the amazing, dedicated, kind staff.

Eventually, I was told there was a vacancy in the art room for a volunteer. It appealed to me because my background is in art and design.

All Christie patients are able to go to the art room, regardless of whether they have any experience in painting or art. They are welcomed with open arms. You don’t need an appointment, you just turn up.

I did not know what to expect, but was stunned when I walked through the door at the high standard of the work.

The patients have an inspirational teacher, Pat, who is rated very highly by everyone in the art room. Her humour and encouragement soon puts everyone at ease, and they start painting and experimenting from the very first session.

Many of the paintings are exhibited on the walls of the hospital and some are for sale too at regular exhibitions. The sale of paintings helps to raise money for The Christie charity which funds the art room and many of the other extra services that the NHS can’t pay for at The Christie.

The art room exists for a very good reason. It’s to take the patient’s mind off their cancer for a few hours. This sounds simplistic but this is a highly complex situation that has a massive psychological effect.

People come to the art room at different stages of their cancer. Some have just been diagnosed, others are having treatment or have had treatment.

They are dealing with the diagnosis, the treatment, plus the effect it is having on their body and their mind. For many it can be overwhelming.

But when they have a paintbrush in their hand and a blank canvas in front of them, they are concentrating on the painting and not the cancer. They are creating something. It seems to change their mental state. They have a new goal and a new focus.

In some cases they are doing something they never thought they were capable of. The whole atmosphere of the room has a calming effect on their minds.

The men and women in the room are able to talk about their cancer to other people who are going through the same thing and share their feelings. They all know how they are feeling, because they have cancer too.

I had no conception of the devastating and complex effect cancer can have on the mental state of someone, regardless of the physical effects of the treatment.

Some people say it completely shatters their confidence. One person said to me that in the very first week of being in the art room her confidence came back. It had changed her life. It’s difficult to understand that, until someone tells you face to face.

There is an intimate, family atmosphere in the art room and friendships are formed and a lot of mutual support is given. There is a lot of humour and affection.

This is not professional art therapy, as the teacher Pat is clear to point out, it’s the actual act of painting that has a therapeutic effect.

My mum was a painter, but she did not go to the art room at The Christie, which I am sure she would have enjoyed.

This is no ordinary art class, it is extraordinary. It is full of humanity, warmth and hope.

When I walk into The Christie, I am always overwhelmed with the optimistic happy atmosphere. It has changed my life too.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

I wanted to take on a challenge where I’d knew I’d suffer because I wanted to repay The Christie for caring for my mum - Holly Bloor

Holly Bloor, Christie fundraiser

I wanted to start my blog with words contributed by some of the people I know who have had family, friends and loved ones who have had, or are currently battling, cancer. Here’s what they said as dedications:

Cynthia's friend, Steven – positive, a fighter, a new husband.

Julia's twin, Andy – loved by all (Andy Stubbs died 15th July 2016).

Jane's friend, Lesley - never stopped smiling.

Mandy's sister, Michelle – youthful, inspirational, a fighter, beautiful (Michelle Adams died 31st July 2016).

Simon's gran, Joan – brave and inspirational. She will live long in the memories of many (Joan Mitchell died 29th April, 2016).

Donna's mum and dad, Sheila and Barry – as parents caring, generous and selfless. In life, happy and lively. Proud that they were mine! (Sheila Spooner died 28th August 1995 and Barry Spooner died 18th December 2013).

Some of these battles have been won and some lost, some still continue. These words illustrate that cancer is something we all encounter.

In my case I lost my gran to cancer and now my mum is fighting it.

Mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014. When someone you love is first diagnosed with cancer it feels like someone has stamped a big full stop at the end of your happiness and it’s really hard to get past the initial feelings of despair.

My mum’s outlook towards her illness is a mixture of positivity, stubbornness and compassion. She just gets on with it; the endless hospital appointments, waiting rooms, scans, blood tests, results, fatigue and nausea. Cancer is an inconvenience! But it is never going to get in the way of her looking after her daughter and my sister, Amy.

Amy is my little sister and she has Down’s syndrome, so my mum is a carer first and has cancer second!

I find a positive attitude like my mum’s is contagious.

Shortly after being diagnosed, she began treatment at The Christie and after every appointment she came home singing the hospital’s praises. She compliments the nurses, doctors, cleaners and people who serve tea in the cafĂ©, telling me how their friendly and cheerful nature helps her keep her chin up.

She enjoys the memorial garden and I can see for myself from her photographs how beautiful it is. She talks about the hand massages and reflexology on offer to patients. These are small things but they go a long way if you have cancer.

Hearing her talk about The Christie I was inspired to stop moping and get off my bum and do something. I felt totally powerless to help fight my mum’s cancer and realised that the only thing I can do is to try and raise a few pennies to help The Christie charity. I feel indebted to The Christie for helping my mum and I figured I could thank them and help them fight cancer at the same time.

I wanted to fundraise for my mum, for the people I mentioned at the start of this blog and for all those affected by cancer. So I thought about the worst thing I could put myself through and it soon sprang to mind… running. I absolutely hate it!

I sat and thought a bit… I’ll do the Potters half! Then my brain ticked a bit more. No, that’s only one race and the more I suffer the more money people will give me. So, for inspiration, I read a bit about the history of The Christie hospital. I learnt that in 1901 it was renamed The Christie in honour of Richard Christie and his wife Mary. That gave me an idea, what if I run a race for every 10 years it has been The Christie!

So I signed up for the Potters Arf’.

My first run was in late January. It was cold, wet and dark - perfect running conditions…or not. But I was inspired! I was going to become a runner! As I laced up my shiny new trainers I considered how far I should run. Ten miles, eight miles … But I decided on five. Don’t get carried away I thought to myself - it is your first run!

Twenty minutes later I fell through my front door; red faced, sweating and out of breath. My calf muscles, which I didn’t think even existed (I’d certainly never seen them anyway) were so tight that when I had finally picked myself up from the floor, I couldn’t lift my feet and had to shuffle to the settee. Once I’d regained some composure I glanced at Strava (other activity tracking apps are available) and it said I’d run 1.2Km!! I’d only run 1.2Km, not even a mile! One half marathon seemed impossible never mind six full marathons in a row!

I decided that my challenge was suitable. I’d confirmed that I was rubbish at running and so I’d suffer plenty! I would definitely deserve sponsorship! I started to sign up for races; The Potters Arf in June, Ashbourne Half in July, Newark Half in August, Great North Run in September, Manchester Half in October and Lancaster Half in November (the last day of my honeymoon I might add). Following this, I will do six full marathons.

So the day of ‘The Potters Arf’ arrived - June 12th 2016. Ahead of me lay 13.1 miles of running and 260m of hills. At 10am I was waiting to start, surrounded by proper runners uttering phrases such as ‘PB’, ‘Sub 1:45’ and ‘8 minute splits’. At this point my ‘PB’ was managing to only swallow two flies on a training run (I run with my mouth open).

I tucked myself in near the back, next to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a helicopter and two bumble bees. Then 10:30am came and we were off! Surprisingly, I soon settled into the run and began to have a whale of a time. The public support was fantastic and I was propelled along by the crowd. At several points throughout the run I heard people shout for The Christie and cheer. The feeling of pride to be running for such a fantastic and well-loved charity was really quite overwhelming. I ran across the finish line in 2:16:56, no ‘sub 1:45’ but not too embarrassing.

Next up was the Ashbourne Half on July 3rd 2016, the same 13.1 miles, but 320m of hills to climb. I was more nervous this time, surrounded by proper runners with lean muscled legs and compression socks, and not a single charity runner in sight. This was going to be a tough half marathon in the peak district, with hills, hills and more hills on a very hot day.
I soon began to suffer. The hills started in the first mile and continued for the next eight! I found myself chuntering ’blinking hills’ as I plodded along. Luckily I had fantastic support from my partner Sean, who cycled to certain points of the race and thrust water and energy gels at me as I stumbled past.

This race felt like the longest 13.1 miles ever and by the last mile I was totally exhausted. However, as I entered the last 500m I saw my little sis Amy and the rest of my family and it was all worth it. Amy even raced to the finish with me and was far sprightlier than me.

To be honest, despite training I haven’t really improved. Now I just run farther, but the end result is still the same – a red, sweaty mess. When I’m out running I often encounter other female runners. I watch them run past gracefully with their long legs in little shorts and no cellulite! When will I start look like that!

I’m now two half marathons into my challenge and so far I’m four toenails down with a fifth one looking dubious. I’ve swallowed millions of bugs and at least one moth! Half of my body is chafed but (at the point of writing) I’ve raised £853.50 of my £1,000 target, so every second of suffering is worth it and let’s face it, this is insignificant suffering compared with having cancer. Cancer really sucks.

I feel almost like we are in a war. A war against a tiny enemy that we can’t see and don’t truly understand. There are millions of fundraisers like myself and I view us as the foot soldiers. We walk, run, swim, climb, hurl ourselves out of planes and off bridges, bake cakes and shave our heads to try and to raise as much money as we can in order to provide the ammunition to fight cancer. But we are not the heroes, those with cancer are the true heroes.

Help me say thank you to The Christie for my mum and millions of others at www.justgiving.com/Holly-Bloor3

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

We want to develop our radiology service to be one of the best in the world - Gregory Royal

Gregory Royal – interventional radiographer

Gregory Royal
I have been a radiographer for 19 years. During that time I have worked mainly in the acute setting and since 2008 specialised in interventional radiology. This is an area of radiology where we aim to treat patients rather than purely diagnose them. 

We use specialised equipment (catheters and stents etc) along with real time x-ray. My role in this field is to provide best quality imaging, often for very sick patients undergoing the treatments.

Having worked in Manchester for most of my 19 years as a radiographer (I some time spent in London and seeing the world), I have known about The Christie for a long time. I knew it was a cancer centre with a world-wide reputation. 

I had been working as the interventional radiology lead in a nearby hospital (running the service there), but when I heard that the Christie had a vacancy for an interventional radiology team leader I jumped at the chance to apply. 

Upon visiting the department at The Christie, I discovered that a new unit was being planned and if I got the job I would get to be part of it. Fortunately I was successful in being appointed.

I started at The Christie at the end of May 2015 and found everyone very welcoming. The first impression I got was how patient focused the staff are and how enthusiastic people are to help. I’ve always had the most job satisfaction from helping patients. Rightly, that should be the main focus for all healthcare workers, but at The Christie the standards of patient care are at a much higher level.  This obviously makes me proud to work at The Christie and proud of our staff.

Within my job I spend approximately 80% of my time involved in a clinical role and this is without a doubt the most appealing part of what I do. As the team lead for radiology 2, I make sure services such as ultrasound, in-patient plain film and interventional radiology run as best they can. I have a great team to work with, which includes not just radiographers and radiologists, but also nurses, a co-ordinator, clerical staff and porters.  

The other 20% of my time is spent on management issues and duties. The biggest of these is currently being part of the sub-group developing the operational side of the new Integrated Procedures Unit (IPU) which is currently being built on the Oak Road side of our site above the main entrance. This is an exciting development for The Christie overall but also for the interventional radiology team. It means we can build on and cement the excellent oncology procedures and care we provide so as to truly take the service forward and make it world class – our patients deserve nothing less!

Moving to The Christie was the best career choice I could have made and I couldn’t be happier in my work life. I get the chance to spend time with patients and along with some fantastic colleagues to affect change and develop our radiology service to be one of the best.