Tuesday, 29 August 2017

I wanted to give something back to The Christie through the Total Warrior event in the wake of my father's death - Kristian Sparrow

Kristian Sparrow, Christie fundraiser 

Kristian Sparrow
On 18th July 2017, my world changed forever. I lost the only man I have ever loved, my father, Douglas Sparrow. He fought his disease for five long years, endured four major operations and three years of chemotherapy.  

The doctors, nurses, volunteers and all other staff at The Christie made his last years that little bit more tolerable.  He was known by all and greeted with warmth every time he walked into The Christie.

Although he passed away at St. Anne's Hospice, the care he received at The Christie was second to none.  They do a wonderful job in the most harrowing of circumstances and they are at the forefront of research in the oncology field.  

Through my work as the owner of Didsbury based www.idealhouseshare.com and to say thank you for The Christie's amazing work, I led a team of 13 staff members and tenants on the gruelling Total Warrior assault course in the Lake District on 5th August.  

With over £3,000 raised and counting, I feel great to have been able to give something back to The Christie and would encourage other survivors of those who have been taken by cancer to do the same. It was a cathartic experience to do such a physical challenge in the wake of my father's death.

idealhouseshare.com staff and tenants
Obviously, the Total Warrior event was made all the more poignant by his sad passing, something I had not foreseen when I began to look for participants back in April.  

Apart from when he was having chemotherapy, he never really appeared outwardly sick and so perhaps we were lulled into a false sense of security regarding his condition. However, the disease really accelerated from the end of May and only then was his fragility truly exposed.

One in three of us will be affected by cancer in our lifetime (and one in two of us born after 1960 will have cancer at some stage in our life). Before his eventual admission, I visited The Christie on many occasions with my father for his consultations and appointments. What struck me whilst sitting with my dad in the waiting rooms was the randomness of it all. Cancer isn't necessarily a disease that specifically targets old people; it's a disease that can strike people down at much earlier stages too. Whether it's young mothers with breast cancer, kids with Leukaemia or older smokers like my dad, cancer can devastate anyone.

One thing I did learn from my dad about cancer is that attitude plays a big factor in its treatment. 

Doug took it in his stride, and within reason, it didn't stop him doing anything wanted to do. He wanted to be useful, he carried on telling his jokes and his stories and despite difficult personal circumstances outside of the disease, Doug carried on being jovial and always had a willingness to make people smile.  

Kristian and his dad Doug
Those with a lust for life and inner strength will maximise the time they have left and those who are closest to the patient can provide calm through a stormy sea.  I saw my father most days for the last year of his life.  In that time I was lucky enough for him to see me get married and even tell him that I myself was due to become a father, this October. Although he very sadly missed out on being a grandfather by a matter of months his spirit will live on in my little boy and I promise to pour every bit of love I have in my soul into my own son. I hope that I’ll be able to give my own son as much as my dad gave me.

However, my story is just one tale in an ocean of tragedy that cancer evokes. My relationship is no more or less important than the next, only to me, my family and our friends.  

But cancer will affect every family. One day it could be you having to have a tumour operated on, having chemotherapy or watching your nearest and dearest suffer. So what can we do to stop it? 

We must support the vital work and research that The Christie does. I will continue to support The Christie for the rest of my life. God bless all of the staff there who treat the sick and weary and bless the work that goes on inside the hospital walls.

To anyone who is going through a similar experience as I have, my advice would be to say everything you need to say, do everything you need to do with those you love as time is but a fleeting moment for us all. I was lucky enough to heed this advice and I urge others to do the same.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Choosing to have my treatment at The Christie was the best decision I ever made - Esther Parkinson

Esther Parkinson, Christie patient and fundraiser

Esther Parkinson
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2013. It’s a date that will always stick in my mind, and sometimes still feels like yesterday. Diagnosis day was a very dark day. 

Anyone who has been affected by cancer, directly or indirectly will know the impact it has on your life. Not just yours but others around you too. It turns your world upside down and rips up the rule book on emotions and how you should feel. You don’t know where to put yourself, what to do, what to say, whether to cry, whether to shout etc. It sends your head completely into a spin.

I was diagnosed at my local hospital in Blackpool. At the time, my mum and my sister were with me when I received the news.  We went home that day, very quiet and caught up in our own thoughts. 

Fortunately for me, my sister is a consultant oncologist (in Cambridge) and a few days later, she recommended The Christie as a place to have my treatment. Although I’d vaguely heard of The Christie, I wasn’t aware of its renowned reputation and the brilliant work it does. So for me, I was weighing up having my treatment just 15 minutes down the road in Blackpool, versus travelling more than an hour each way to Manchester every time. 

My head was still scrambled at that point, as I was still trying to deal with the news of my diagnosis. So in my eyes, the less travel involved, the better - especially if I was feeling unwell due to the treatment. I wasn’t focusing on the important bit, which was where would be the best place to have treatment.

Lengthy discussions took place with my sister, and thankfully she put her foot down and insisted that I go to The Christie. She explained all the reasons why and highlighted that it was a specialist cancer hospital and was not only the number one hospital in the North West, but the best in the country. I couldn’t really argue against that, so I agreed to go The Christie. 

It was the best decision I was ever to make. 

Upon walking through the doors of The Christie, it instantly feels welcoming and has a friendly feel that I’ve never experienced in any other hospital. 

All the professionals and staff always make you feel like an individual, they genuinely want to help you get better, and help make the journey as stress-free as possible. They are obviously aware that you are going through a traumatic time, and there is always someone to speak to or hold your hand (physically as well as metaphorically). 

I have a phobia of needles, and the very sight of one (and even talking about it at times) sends me white and wobbly! Apart from the obvious diagnosis, having to have treatment intravenously was my worst nightmare come true, not to mention all the blood tests required. They all involved a dreaded needle. It was just unthinkable, and I had no way of getting past how I would cope. 

On my first treatment day, I mentioned my phobia to the chemo team and they made a referral there and then to the complementary therapies team. Within about half an hour someone came to see me, and started talking me through some cognitive behavioural therapy techniques and ways to try to relax to cope with the forthcoming treatment. They were extremely helpful and patient with me, and although stress levels were still quite high, they had reduced somewhat by the time it came to chemo time. 

On the following treatment day, I was visited once again by the complementary therapies team, and again they talked me through some more relaxation techniques. This time they gave me an aromatherapy stick to sniff (a bit like a Vicks inhaler but with aromatherapy vapours) when I was feeling anxious, and explained how to associate this with pleasant experiences and happy times. This proved to be a successful technique and helped make the treatment a calmer experience for me.

The following few treatments I learnt to cope without help from staff, using the techniques I had been shown together with the aromatherapy stick. It was a genius invention but such a simple one too. As my treatments were coming to an end, I was just about managing my phobia. What started out as something I couldn’t even comprehend going through, ended up being something I could just about cope with, without passing out!! This is thanks to the wonderful help of the complementary therapies team. 

My penultimate treatment was on Christmas Eve. I had mixed feelings about coming in the day before Christmas. But actually, it turned out to be a really lovely day. The staff were very upbeat, with their Christmas hats on, and it was a positive place to be (as it always is). I remember being offered a foot massage that day, which I happily accepted, and treated it as a little Christmas present! This was another marvellous relaxation technique and I pretty much sailed through my chemo that day. Another one ticked off the list and without any dramas too. 

Christie charity fundraisers David and Esther
I can’t fault any of the staff at The Christie. All the nurses were brilliant with me. They were always very approachable and introduced themselves at all times. They had a great bedside manner, offered advice when needed and listened to me whenever I had any questions about my treatment. Most of all, they treated me like a normal human being, and not just a number. They would happily chat with me about everyday stuff, whilst carrying out their duties and looking after me.

Everyone at The Christie is fabulous, from the volunteers, to the porters, to the nurses, to the doctors and the administration staff. There is always a smile on a face and a helping hand whenever it’s needed. 

The Christie has never felt like a hospital to me. As many people have said before – it’s like a second home - and I will always be comfortable visiting the place. The corridors are filled with positivity, despite so much illness being around. 

It just goes to show that The Christie is a place that really does care, discover and teach.

Monday, 7 August 2017

My Blip - Kaye Sawyer

Kaye Sawyer, Christie mobile chemotherapy service patient 

Kaye Sawyer
In 2012 my mum was diagnosed with stage 3 aggressive breast cancer. Aged 71 and still with everything to live for, she didn’t give it the time of day! Mastectomy, chemo and radiotherapy, she held her head high and punched the cancer in the face. Fast forward four years and it was my turn.

Diagnosed in February 2016 with stage 3 invasive breast cancer and HER2 positive I only had one option and that was to give it what for, just like my mum. I was ready, I knew what was coming and I was going to be just like her, head held high and smiling my way through.

So, after all the appointments and checks, I had my left breast removed BUT had a reconstruction at the same time; I was going under with one and I was coming out with one regardless. I was advised there could be slight complications with the implant and my skin may become tighter after the radiotherapy but hey ho, I’ll meet that if or when it happens.

With surgery a success I was on to chemotherapy, slightly delayed as I wanted to go on a weekend away, and why not? My life’s for living regardless, I will do the things that I can while I can. Punch number 1 done and dusted! 

After a weekend away with my fab colleagues, I began the chemo. My hair began to fall out after the first session but I had short hair anyway and after three sessions I was completely bald. I had the caps and scarves but they didn’t really suit me. I wore one for work once and one of my friends asked me to cross their palm with silver! (It was funny at the time). But knowing I would have no hair I had decided prior to all this to re-invent myself so I had got myself a long-haired wig. I loved it - it was my costume, it was my confidence and it quite suited me (I think!). There were moments of sadness through all this, but not for long.

The Herceptin was introduced to my last three chemo sessions plus the chemo drugs were changed. I had a concoction of madness that put me to bed for a couple of days but only to watch TV and chill out and it was on a weekend so really wasn’t a big deal for me.

I had my chemotherapy nearer to home at the Churchill unit in Bolton. This was far more convenient for me as I had my bloods checked on the way to work on a Tuesday, chemo on the Wednesday and then back in work on Thursday. That’s right, punch number 2, I worked my cancer treatment around my work not the other way around.

I had 18 Herceptin injections to get through (one every 3 weeks) and I was given the choice of The Christie’s mobile unit situated just five minutes from work, in Tesco’s car park to be precise!

I couldn’t believe I was rocking up to a car park to get lifesaving treatment but it is amazing. 

On approach, it’s a big van but on the inside it’s like a Tardis! I have been there every three weeks since September 2016 and I can honestly say it doesn’t feel like I am being treated for cancer at all. Plus, I can nip into the supermarket when I need to and get back to work in plenty of time.

The staff are fabulous of course and I have made really good friends there. We talk about everyday things and as women we chat about hair, make up and nails, swapping tips and truthfully having a good coffee morning! And I was delighted to be part of BBC Radio 5 live’s day of broadcasts from The Christie a few weeks ago, talking about the friends I’d made on the mobile unit.

It’s hard to believe that treatment/chemo is being given when we are all sitting there smiling but that’s the beauty of the chemo bus. There isn’t any waiting around, or walking along corridors and trying to find your way around and feeling nervous as hell. In fact, most ladies I meet here come on their own, it’s that easy.

My radiotherapy started last October, three weeks of going every day and was done at The Christie at Salford, part of Salford Royal Hospital, two minutes away from work so I went there on my lunch break. Punch number 3, I am nearly there!

I had my last Herceptin injection in July 2017. My road will end at the mobile unit but my life will carry on with (in a weird way) good memories of the beautiful people I have met along the way and a few good pictures of me with long hair!

I am only 47. My son Ashley has recently got engaged to his gorgeous girlfriend Abby. My mum is on her last year of medication, Letrozole, and both she and my dad live with me, we take care of each other and now we have a wedding to plan!

My family and friends think I am brave, an inspiration. I just think I have another funny story to tell, it’s called my blip!

Just remember that before that knockout punch you need to ask a lot of questions about the nearest treatment facilities for you, because that’s half the job done. It’s tough enough without the stress of traffic, car parking, who’s taking you, who’s picking you up and what you need to take to keep you occupied throughout the day.

You need all the strength you can get.  Each facility I have been to, for each stage I’ve been through, has been small, intimate and friendly and I have never spent all day waiting anywhere. But the best thing is, I hardly ever felt like I had cancer!  My last words of wisdom will be, rest when you need to, enjoy when you can and listen to your body. Most importantly don’t let the damn thing change you. We all have blips.


You can hear Kaye on BBC Radio 5 live at https://youtu.be/u5MJrj4OBqY

To find out more about our mobile chemotherapy service please visit www.christie.nhs.uk/patients-and-visitors/your-treatment-and-care/our-treatment-centres/mobile-chemotherapy-unit/