среда, 8 марта 2017 г.
'The people who saved my life'
Every year, more than 2,800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK* - and a third of them die from the disease. Nicola Craffey, 29, was told she had cervical cancer in April 2008 and underwent life-saving treatment. Here she says thank you to all those who helped her beat the disease.
"Settling into a chair in the doctor's waiting room, I spotted a poster on the wall. 'When was your last smear test?' it read. I realised I couldn't remember. But I wasn't having any symptoms that suggested something might be wrong 'down there'.
I had been feeling sluggish for a few weeks though, so while I was seeing the doctor, I asked about a smear, too. It turned out my last test had been over four years ago and I was 18 months overdue. I decided to have a test that day. It was uncomfortable, but nothing too awful. As I left, I never dreamed the results would be abnormal. But they were. Within six weeks, I received a letter saying I needed further tests.
I was sent for a biopsy, where part of my cervix was cut away and tested for cancer. I was scared, but all I could do was wait. Then, two weeks later, I started bleeding heavily and fainted. Coming round in a hospital bed, a consultant, Mr Ali, was beside me, along with my mum, dad and sister, Rachel, 25.
'I'm afraid you have cancer,' Mr Ali said gently, explaining a tumour was pressing on my cervix, causing it to bleed. He was kind but matter of fact, telling me he'd do everything he could. The shock took my breath away.
He recommended a radical hysterectomy as my best chance of survival. This involved a six-hour operation to remove my cervix, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, the top half of my vagina and the lymph nodes from around my groin, the tops of my legs and my lower abdomen. Then I'd need four weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. I was only 27 and my body was being robbed of everything that made me a woman. Mr Ali told me I'd go through early menopause and never have children. But all I could think about was surviving.
I'll have to wait to see if I've won my fight - the cancer might come back. But so far, so good. Cervical cancer doesn't have to mean the worst. Mr Ali was the first of a long line of experts who saved my body and mind. I'd never have got through it without them."
Mr Saad Ali, 57, consultant gynaecology surgeon at the Royal Oldham and St Mary's hospitals, Manchester.
"Nicola was surrounded by her family when I told her she had cancer. They were apprehensive and frightened, but I believe it's best for a patient to be given all the facts. When Nicola asked me if she was going to die, I couldn't answer - but I reassured her that we would do all we could. She needed a radical hysterectomy to remove the cancerous cells from her cervix. It is a serious procedure, but I perform around 120 cancer operations a year and I knew it was the right option for Nicola.
Over the past 20 years, I've seen great advances in the treatment and aftercare of cervical cancer. Now, there's more emphasis on early detection and prevention. If we can catch cancer at the earliest stage possible, we can make sure women have the best chance of survival."
Dr Jacqueline Livsey, 40, consultant clinical oncologist at The Christie Hospital, Manchester. She determines the treatment plans for patients suffering from cancer.
"Thankfully, Nicola's cancer hadn't spread, but after the surgery she did have some cancerous cells that needed further treatment to eradicate them. The first step was radiotherapy where high-energy rays are beamed through the skin to kill the cancer cells. She also needed chemotherapy - a course of drugs to target these cells and destroy them. I had to work out how much treatment she would need and how long it would last.
Now, I see Nicola every 12 weeks so I can check on her progress. She's in remission, and if she stays cancer-free for five years, the chance of it coming back is miniscule.
I'm so pleased that I've had a hand in Nicola's recovery. I feel so proud every time we have a success."
Lucie Hodge, 32, a therapy radiographer at The Christie. She treats 40 patients a day.
"Every patient's radiotherapy is different. Nicola's needed to target four tiny areas around her abdomen to blast any remaining cancer cells where her cervix used to be.
When I first met Nicola, she was recovering from her operation and still quite weak. She didn't know what to expect and was worried about whether the procedure would hurt. We sat down together and talked everything through.
Nicola had little dots tattooed on specific points on her skin so the treatment could be aimed as precisely as possible. A burst of radiation is concentrated on the area we want to treat, lasting 30 seconds to a minute. Then it moves on to the next area. Afterwards, it feels a little like sunburn on the skin.
Because X-rays are involved, no one else can be in the treatment room and it can be quite scary for the patient. I explained that Nicola could listen to her favourite CDs to help her relax. I also showed her some calming techniques, such as deep breathing.
After we spoke, Nicola felt reassured. It's common for patients to be scared of the unknown. Once they've had their first dose of radiotherapy, they know what to expect. Nicola came to see us every day for four weeks and had the same treatment each time.
I'm here to provide emotional support as well as medical care. It's lovely striking up a rapport with a patient and knowing I've helped them feel better, not just physically but emotionally, too."
Lynne McCallum, 32, a senior staff chemotherapy nurse at The Christie. Her job involves assessing patients and administering chemotherapy drugs.
"People have set ideas about what chemotherapy's going to be like - the hair loss, the sickness. It can be a very emotional experience. Some are incredibly upbeat, others are anxious.
When I first met Nicola, she was tired and drained after her radiotherapy. She had four five-hour chemo treatments with us, once a week for a month. The drug she was treated with is called cisplatin. It's administered into a vein and flows around the bloodstream. But chemo affects healthy cells and bone marrow as well as cancerous cells. That's why people feel so unwell afterwards.
Nicola's dad, Shaun, 52, sat with her during her treatment and he was great at keeping her spirits up, but I know she found it tough. She had most of the side effects: nausea, loss of appetite and heartburn. Her hair turned brittle and thin, but she didn't lose it completely.
We try to make sure there's a good atmosphere on the ward. All the nurses are upbeat - we're very aware of the importance of reassuring people. It's impossible not to be touched by our patients, but we have to remain professional.
I've been an oncology nurse for seven years, and I'm so glad I chose to go into this line of nursing. There's more to recovering from cancer than treatment. We become part of people's lives as we help them. For me, that's an honour."
Helen Readdie, 47, a Macmillan lymphoedema specialist nurse at the Royal Oldham Hospital. She set up a specialist unit there eight years ago.
"When patients have their lymph nodes removed, they can suffer from lymphoedema. This is where excess fluid in the tissues isn't able to drain away, causing swelling.
Nicola developed the condition in her left leg six months after her operation. When she came to see me, she was very upset. She was used to slipping into skinny jeans and wearing high heels. Now she felt that her leg looked like an elephant's and she was worried it would stay that way forever.
I was able to teach her how to reduce the swelling by using compression garments - thick leggings that put pressure on the limb - massage and skincare. I was there to listen, too, and was very honest with Nicola about what she was going through. Sometimes the skin over the affected area can crack due to the swelling and won't heal. Then the fluid has to be drained as it could lead to infection.
Thankfully, Nicola's condition is manageable, although it is something she will always suffer from. She takes water tablets to keep her level of fluid down, moisturises her skin daily and, once a month, I give her a lymphatic massage to move the fluid away from the affected area.
I love my job. Knowing I can make a difference to the quality of people's lives after cancer is so fulfilling."
Amanda Storey, 42, works at the Royal Oldham and St Mary's hospitals as a Macmillan gynaecology clinical nurse specialist, supporting patients who have gynaecological cancer.
"When patients go back to their normal lives, they can discover that their cancer has affected them in ways they hadn't even imagined. I particularly help with sexuality - women can feel like they've lost some of their femininity after surgery. My patients often discuss things they can't talk to anyone else about, so I always have a box of tissues handy.
Nicola was very upset when she started going through the menopause. The hot flushes and night sweats were reminders that she had lost her fertility. She was heartbroken that her dream of having children naturally was over.
I'm very frank about things. Nicola and I have discussed everything from sexual positions to body image - her operation left her with a scar on her abdomen. I prescribed HRT for the hot flushes and sweats. She was worried whether she'd be able to have sex again but the good news is that she can.
She knows a lot of her worries are in her head. I give her advice, information and support. We also enjoy a good giggle together. Nicola knows she can talk to me about anything - I'll always be just a phone call away."
Nicola has been supported by Macmillan (Macmillan.org.uk)