Cancer patient’s concern over unit
A LONDONDERRY cancer sufferer who had part of his left lung removed in 2010 only to be told last month that his cancer had returned and was inoperable says he believes the city’s proposed new radiotherapy centre will not be on a par with facilities in Belfast once it opens in 2016.
Care assistant Robert Boyle from Newbuildings last month got the shocking news that the lung cancer he thought he’d beaten was back and that surgery was no longer a possibility and radiotherapy was the only treatment left to fight the illness.
Mr Boyle makes the comments as the Sentinel today reveals that the Northern Ireland health service is sending sick and suffering people as far afield as Regensburg, Germany, for radiotherapy or radiosurgery.
The Health Minister Edwin Poots has now revealed that the University Hospital in Regensburg alongside dozens of hospitals in Great Britain has incredibly been the destination for dozens of local cancer patients over the past five years.
Speaking to the Sentinel about his gruelling battle against lung cancer, Mr Boyle says he believes the North West will still be getting a raw deal even when a state-of-the art new radiotherapy centre opens in the city in 2016.
He claims the new facility will not have a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) three-dimensional nuclear imaging scanner as it costs roughly £1k per PET scan and takes three years to train staff to use a machine.
This is despite PET scans being more accurate and detailed than Computer Tomography (CT) and Medical Resonance Imaging (MRI) X-rays.
Health chiefs in the city have confirmed there will not be a PET scanner on site, but pointed out that the centre will have state-of-the-art equipment and will provide radiotherapy to to deal with all but the most complex tumours.
Mr Boyle told the paper: “On a recent lung cancer awareness day I discovered that Belfast and the Northern Trust have lung cancer support groups but there are none in the Western Trust.
“Also I learned at that day that there is only one PET scanner in Northern Ireland and if they get funding for a second one it will be located in Belfast. This frustrated me as if and when the radiotherapy unit is completed at Altnagelvin it will not have a PET scanner.
“The PET scan is not offered to everyone with cancer as it costs a lot to run and our waiting lists would be even longer than they already are.
“This means that although we will have a new radiotherapy centre in Altnagelvin it will not have a state of the art facilities that Belfast has.
“This will mean that people requiring to be PET scanned will still have to take the journey to Belfast. This is exhausting on the patient and their carers as they have to undertake long journeys whilst sick or suffering. I thought that when the centre opened in the city that the people in the Western Trust and Donegal regions would have all the facilities that the Belfast centre has.”
Mr Boyle who works at the Foyle Disability Resource Centre (FDRC) was diagnosed with cancer in September 2010 after noticing a cough that went on a little longer than normal.
An ex-smoker since 2006, Mr Boyle wasn’t amongst 73 people from the little village of Newbuildings to suffer malignant cancer between 2007 and 2009, nor was he amongst the 43 people from the village to be treated for some form of malignant cancer during the same two year period.
Thankfully, he was not of the number of 22 Newbuildings people alone who died from cancer between 2008 and 2010 but the fact that his diagnosis occurred at the height of the Altnagelvin cancer X-ray debacle, which was eventually reported in detail in early 2011, did little for his peace of mind over the past tortuous two years.
Great anxiety was caused amongst people who had scans or X-rays at Altnagelvin after 18,500 X-rays (including 3,400 chest X-rays) could not be completed within the 28 days agreed standard in 2009/2010. Four Altnagelvin cancer patients had to be recalled and at least two of these people have since died.
But back in Autumn 2010 Mr Boyle was getting his first taste of what life was really like for a Londonderry cancer sufferer, travelling to-and-fro from Belfast in all weather for scans, X-rays and treatments, not yet sure whether he would lose one of his lungs in its entirety.
“Time was marching on and I was becoming more scared not knowing what was going on,” he told the Sentinel.
“I felt like I was being overlooked and I voiced my opinion to the hospital complaints, as I was being mindful of the time that was lapsing and inwardly worrying.”
The Duncastle Park man recalls the stress of travelling back and forth over the Glenshane when both he and his wife Janice - a staff nurse - were already working on top of as providing extra care for their son Nathan, who has autism.
“My wife took me up to Belfast on the day of the worst snow in the North West and we left home at 11am and reached Belfast at 3.30pm with only one stop to scrape the ice off the car.
“On December 7, 2010, I had my surgery, which was the removal of the upper lobe on my left lung, which on analysis proved that I had non small cell cancer.”
After this apparently successful surgery there followed further visits to Belfast for a gruelling course of chemotherapy at the Belfast City Hospital “to try to pick up on any stray cells, which may have escaped.” The required chemical mixture, explained Mr Boyle, was not available at Altnagelvin.
The grim process of chemo continued for months but: “Thankfully I had very little sickness, did not lose much weight and my hair thinned rather than losing it.
“I was unable to return to work until September 2011 doing a phased return.”
Things appeared to be going well. Mr Boyle was returning for regular check ups at Altnagelvin every two to three months for X-rays and other assessments until last month he received the devastating news that his first CT scan in two years had revealed that his cancer had returned.
“I was doing well until this September and a scan showed something in my left lung again,” he said.
Mr Boyle told the Sentinel he has now been told that the returned cancer is inoperable and that radiotherapy is the only real option for him.
Devastatingly, he is now uncertain of his own life expectancy with the prognosis at this stage still uncertain.
“The mental torture that I have gone though since I would not wish on my own worse enemy and now I am off on a different journey with radiotherapy to be used to shrink the tumour as surgery is not an option,” he told the paper.
Mr Boyle says he wanted to highlight the symptoms of lung cancer ahead of Lung Cancer awareness month in November and suggested the Londonderry area is currently without a dedicated support group for sufferers for whatever reason.
He has also expressed amazement a that a PET scanner - whatever the costs - will not be located in Altnagelvin’s new radiotherapy centre.
He says resources should be made available for a Londonderry PET scanner - which more accurate and detailed than a CT or MRI - he feels would have shown up any residual cancer cells in his lung much earlier.
“The fear of having cancer, not knowing what to expect, not knowing what support is out there and what benefits is available is also very important,” he said.
“As next month is Lung Cancer awareness month I want to make everyone aware as lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world.”
Unveiling detailed plans for the £50m radiotherapy unit the Western Trust on Monday confirmed that the new centre will not have a PET scanner.
The Trust also confirmed, however, that the facility will contain: three linear accelerators in three treatment suites (bunkers) and associated treatment recording and planning systems; one spare treatment chamber (bunker); one superficial X-ray treatment suite; one CT simulator for treatment planning; one CT scanner for diagnostic imaging; one MRI scanner for diagnostic imaging and treatment planning; and Inpatient Ward; remodel of existing chemotherapy facilities.
Approximately 220 new posts across a range of specialities and disciplines will be created through the development of the new Unit including: Consultant Oncologists and supporting junior medical staff; Nursing staff (Ward, Outpatients and Day Case); Medical Physics Scientists and Technologists; Therapeutic Radiographers; Pharmacy, Pathology and Allied Health Professionals; Diagnostic Radiologists and Radiographers; and Administrative and Facilities Management staff.
Chairman of the Western Trust, Gerard Guckian said: “It is great to see the Radiotherapy Unit progressing well.
“The public are now seeing images of the unit for the first time and this is exciting for all involved. To date, the design team and new Unit Manager have been appointed and the design of the building and enabling works are underway.”
He continued: “This is a significant development for the people in the North West and for the Western Trust. This Unit will meet the needs of the Northwest population and add to the NI radiotherapy capacity overall when it opens in 2016.”
Dr David Stewart Consultant Clinical Oncologist and Clinical Advisor for the project said: “The Radiotherapy Unit will provide a patient centred, holistic service for cancer patients at Altnagelvin Hospital.
“Cancer treatment will be provided in accordance with the existing Northern Ireland Cancer Network (NICaN) patient pathways.
“Radiotherapy treatment, both single and combination radio/chemotherapy for curative and palliative purposes, for all but the most complex of tumours, will be delivered at Altnagelvin Hospital.”
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Weather for Londonderry
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 15 C
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Wind direction: South west
Temperature: 10 C to 15 C
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