Friday, 21 October 2016

‘I did it for The Christie’ because my patients are the most courageous, brave and inspiring human beings I have ever met - Emma Widdowson

Emma Widdowson, Christie nurse and fundraiser 

Emma Widdowson
During September I ran from London to Manchester over seven days to raise money for The Christie and to highlight the challenges that many cancer patients experience.

I did it for The Christie because having worked as a nurse at The Christie on the Oncology Assessment Unit for 18 months I have learned about these challenges first-hand from my patients.

When I stared at The Christie I went to an induction session and the Chief Executive, Roger Spencer gave a welcoming speech. He told us that "the one piece of advice I will give you is talk to your patients." This stuck with me, and from day one of starting work at The Christie I did exactly that. I talked and listened to my patients every day and I found I had the honour of caring for some of the most courageous, brave and inspiring human beings I have ever met.

I’ve also been inspired by a close friend and cancer survivor, Mark, who has been treated at The Christie. Due to the nature of his illness he had to be in isolation for weeks following his treatment. The day he came out of isolation we sat in The Christie garden in the sun drinking coffee. He opened up about the challenges and hurdles he had to overcome both physically and mentally. It was at that moment that I decided I wanted a huge challenge to try and match the challenges that patients at The Christie like Mark have to battle with.

By listening and talking to my patients I was inspired to do something I didn't know was possible. But it's amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it, and that is what my patients have taught me.

I ran from London to Manchester over seven days which equates to a marathon a day. Each day, I decided to wear an outfit to represent a different cancer. For example, I ran dressed in red with bright red lipstick for haematology cancers, dressed in purple to represent melanoma, ran in just my underwear to raise awareness about female cancers and wore a vest given to me by a Sarcoma patient.

The vest belonged to an amazing young guy who I had the privilege of caring for. He was previously fit and full of life but sadly lost his battle to Ewings Sarcoma in August. A couple of days before he passed away, he gave me his vest to run in and said "rock my vest."  His bravery, strength and courage were reminders of why I had set myself such a challenge.  When it got tough at times I felt like he was with me spiritually. 

My friends, family, colleagues and patients were all a great support throughout the week and their daily messages on social media were a real boost.  

My dad did a grand job of meticulously mapping the route and navigating me for 182 miles on his bike without a wrong turn. My mum did lots of baking which kept my sugar levels up and we named it 'rocket fuel'. It was definitely a team effort!

Cancer affects everyone in some way. I feel very privileged to work in one of leading cancer centres in the world. And I feel proud to be part of a team that provides patients with such high standards of care. But there is so much still to learn when it comes to treating cancer. 

The Christie charity is an integral part of The Christie and provides support above and beyond what the NHS can fund. 

I am therefore delighted to be supporting an exciting new campaign by The Christie charity. It’s called simply ‘I did it for The Christie’. Whether it’s baking a cake, jumping out of a plane, or running 7 marathons like I did, everyone in the North West can do something for The Christie and help make a difference to cancer patients’ lives across our region. 

The Christie charity provides enhanced services over and above what the NHS funds. Gifts from supporters make a huge difference to the care and treatment that The Christie is able to provide to cancer patients and their families. 

The new campaign, launched today, will help The Christie to reach new supporters and celebrate the fantastic achievements of thousands of Christie fundraisers.

Please share this blog and get your family and friends to support the campaign.

The Christie is incredibly close to my heart as I witness first-hand the bravery, courage and determination of my patients when life has become a real struggle for them. It is for this reason that I couldn't think of a more worthy charity to raise money for and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to do this challenge. 

Please visit the campaign website at

Monday, 10 October 2016

It is more important to me than ever that staff at The Christie get vaccinated against flu - Olivia Samuel

Olivia Samuel

Olivia Samuel, Christie patient and nurse

I am a 34 year old married mother of two. My oldest Ava is six and my youngest Finn is one. I work as a senior sister at The Christie and have worked here for over 10 years.

As a nurse it has always made sense to me to receive the flu vaccination, to protect myself from becoming ill and requiring time off work, but also to protect my patients from accidentally contracting the flu from me.

Every year around this time, I have been part of the team of nurses who offer and administer the flu vaccination to Christie staff. Part of this role has always been to help staff to understand the importance of having the vaccination, and encourage them to take it.

This year though, I won’t be part of the team of nurses vaccinating Christie staff. This is because at the beginning of May I experienced pain in my left arm and as I tried to establish the location, I came across a large lump deep down inside my armpit.

Running a busy ward and home and trying to prepare for a big brass band contest, I assumed that I was a bit run down and would soon come down with a virus.

After a few days I decided that a trip to the medical centre would be appropriate to 'rule out' anything nasty. On my second visit the GP alerted me to two breast lumps which came as quite a surprise. From here I was referred to the rapid breast clinic. This is the point where I diagnosed myself with breast cancer which I believed had spread to my lymph nodes.

Despite many peoples’ attempts at reassurance, I knew what this was. There was a painful two week wait to be seen at the breast clinic.

On the 18th May, I saw a breast surgeon who following examination performed an x-ray on the breast (a mammogram) and an ultrasound guided biopsy, which involved removing a sample of tissue from the breast and under arm lump for examination.

I went on to have a full body scan and bone scan to check for any further spread beyond my lymph nodes.

On the 3rd of June, I was informed that I had stage 3 invasive breast cancer with extensive lymph node involvement. I was pleased to hear that the bone scan and body scan were clear. I didn’t feel like the diagnosis was much of a shock at this time, it was what I was expecting. It was incredibly difficult to deliver the news to my mum and dad and in particular my six year old daughter.

I was informed that I would need seven cycles of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, radiotherapy and then hormone therapy. I couldn’t believe that I would be going through the treatment I had watched so many of my patients go through.

I have taken time out of work to have this treatment and I am being treated at The Christie, I know I am in good hands.

Now that I find myself as the cancer patient and not the nurse, it is more important to me than ever that staff at The Christie get vaccinated against flu. I am pleased that The Christie takes such an active stance in vaccinating staff to protect them from getting flu and then risking passing it on to patients.

Since being diagnosed with cancer, I have become increasingly aware of my risk of infection from others, a situation that I can feel more in control of in my home environment by asking people to stay away if they are at all unwell. I don't have this control in hospital, so knowing that staff and volunteers I come into contact with have been vaccinated against flu helps puts my mind at rest. I spend so many of my days in bed recovering from the effects of the chemotherapy that getting flu would not only set me back with my treatment, but it could be life threatening to me.

Looking ahead I have nearly completed my chemotherapy and will have surgery and radiotherapy to follow. It is a long pathway of treatment but I hope to complete it and be back to work soon. And hopefully next year I’ll once again be part of the team vaccinating staff against the flu!

Monday, 3 October 2016

We can make a huge difference to the quality of life for patients suffering from lymphoedema after cancer - Lucie Casserley

Lucie Casserley, senior physiotherapist and lymphoedema specialist

Lucie Casserley
There’s something fundamentally fascinating about the mechanics of the human body and what you can do with it.

This captures the essence of why I chose to be a physiotherapist. The human body is an amazing thing. It’s a very finely tuned machine, like a car. But things can go wrong with the body, just like with a car. Wear and tear can be a problem and when things go wrong you need to call the mechanics in! 

I always wanted to work with people, but why physiotherapy? It’s a profession where you work so closely with people both physically and mentally and push them to reach their full potential which often can cause a clash of wills. It requires the patient to put a huge amount of trust in you, especially here at The Christie, and when a patient does that it’s an absolute honour. 

The best thing is I get to do this everyday, I’m not sure there’s a better job to have. I’m literally doing what I love and helping people - you can’t ask for more than that! 

Having been at The Christie for seven years I developed a keen interest in one particular area of physiotherapy, lymphoedema treatment. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s a chronic condition often caused as a side effect of cancer treatment, usually lymph node removal or radiotherapy. 

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, it very much resembles a motorway network but lies just under the skin (as well as deeper). Its job is to collect excess fluid from around the body and return it to the blood via the lymph nodes. Think of these as recycling centres, of which you have hundreds at various motorway junctions around your body.  

Now when there’s an accident at one of these junctions, for example caused by the side effects of radiotherapy, debris covers the road and blocks the pathway. As a result traffic builds up as it can’t exit the motorway. That’s what lymphoedema is in a nutshell.  

In the past the swellings caused by lymphoedema could become so severe that they were labelled elephantitis and could cause major disfigurements. The so-called ‘elephant man’ was a very extreme example of this, but thankfully treatment is vastly improved today so this is now a thing of the past.

Here at The Christie I’m lucky to be part of an amazing team with three specialists, Julie, Paula and me plus our glamorous assistant Chris. We treat all patients with suspected lymphoedema caused by cancer or as a result of cancer treatment in any part of the body; be it arms, legs, breasts, genitals or the head and neck.

So if we go back to the motorway analogy, what exactly do I do when it comes to helping patients? 

Well I’m the traffic officer or your trusty sat nav. I redirect the traffic through smaller roads and breakdown or clear away any debris causing blockages. In the human body this means the lymph can flow freely once more.

Unfortunately, lymphoedema is not curable. We can assist in reducing the volume of lymphoedema to very mild, but there is always the potential for it to flare up again because the junction at that exit point is missing.

The light at the end of the tunnel for lymphoedema patients is that treatments are developing all the time and research is ongoing. A fairly new treatment is lymph node transplants. I was lucky enough to watch Mr Oudit, a plastic surgeon here at The Christie do one very recently, it was the first of its kind in the NHS  in this country. It was awe inspiring to watch.  

Mr Oudit has also done a liposuction recently to help a lymphoedema patient, because when lymph fluid stays in the same place for a prolonged period it can turn into fatty tissue. 

Both patients in these cases are ecstatic with the early results.

So what else can be done to help patients with lymphoedema? There are four key things that can help to control and mitigate the effects of lymphoedema.

  1. Skincare is paramount. Dry cracked skin is an entry point for bacteria and infections which can worsen lymphoedema.
  2. Exercise. Exercise encourages the contraction and relaxing of muscles and creates a pump effect pulling fluid into the body, although too much repetitive movement can overload the body and make the lymphoedema worse. So slow and graduated exercise is the key.
  3. Compression. Specialist garments or bandaging for intensive treatment increase the pressure in the body’s tissues. This makes the muscle pump harder, moving fluid out of the affected areas and minimising further build-up or reflux.
  4. Manual lymphatic drainage. This is a specialist form of massage completed by specialists. It works by increasing the rate at which lymph moves around the body and moves fluid from the swollen areas into working lymph nodes, where it can be drained. It also helps to break down fibrosis.

We have a wide range of other techniques that work alongside these treatments including deep oscillation therapy (DOT), kinesio taping, lymphotouch and soft tissue massage. 

Lymphoedema seems to be more in the spotlight at the moment and this is helping to raise awareness of the struggles cancer survivors with lymphoedema face. This is helping to bring investment into new services for patients. With the extra funding provided, we’ve been able to set up new satellite clinics at Bolton Hospice, Beechwood Cancer Care in Stockport and Cornerstones health centre in North Manchester to bring our patients more holistic and patient centred care, closer to their homes.

Since becoming a physio I’ve often heard us referred to as ‘physio-terrorists’. I guess some people dread having to see us because some of the treatments we do can be uncomfortable, as anyone who has ever had a bad back and seen a physio will know! 

But remember, we just want to help patients reach their full potential and that we regard their trust in us as a great honour. For patients suffering from lymphoedema after being treated for cancer what we do can make a huge difference to their quality of life. And when we help patients to achieve their full potential and results they never thought possible, we feel just as great about it as they do.

So don’t think of me as your physio, think of me as your mechanic!