Situated in the quiet market town of Sawbridgeworth, the Helen Rollason Cancer Support Centre at The Rivers Hospital is making a positive difference to the lives of local people.
Here we talk to a patient who explains how the HRCC team, including our people in Sawbridgeworth and a Herts-based manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) therapist can help people living with cancer.
THE PATIENT: Richard’s story
I received my diagnosis and confirmation that I had cancer on February 17 this year, an easy date for me to to remember as it was my birthday! Not the greatest of birthday surprises I’m sure you’ll agree.
My diagnosis of Naso pharyngeal carcinoma came after I had been feeling unwell in the latter part of 2014.
After self medicating for a few months and not feeling any better I finally went to my GP in early January 2015. Different antibiotics and steroids were initially tried for around three weeks but as nothing was improving my GP suspected something else. Fortunately for me he was pro-active and quickly ordered a CT scan, x rays and blood tests as well as an urgent referral to an ENT specialist.
Within a month I had these and a series of other tests, including a biopsy, all of which confirmed my worst fears. I had cancer. I was referred to my oncologist – the brilliant Dr Sian Davies – who outlined my treatment which, in her own words, was ‘radical’ and would be intense. I was shocked and absolutely terrified, I was sure I couldn’t do the things that were being asked of me.
I was to have nine chemotherapy sessions during which I would also have six weeks – 30 sessions – of radiotherapy which focused on my head and neck. The radiotherapy was without a doubt the worst part of my treatment. I was burnt, couldn’t eat, drink or speak and by the time it was all done I was in a pretty bad way.
This treatment was undertaken by the magnificent staff at North Middlesex Hospital; they were simply amazing and I owe them a debt I can never repay.
The treatment was hard, really hard, I thought at times that I just couldn’t take any more but even in the darkest of days my doctors and MDT team got me through it.
With my radiotherapy all done I began my final two chemotherapy sessions; these were the hardest as by now my body was exhausted. I finished chemotherapy in mid July, and am on the road to recovery and feeling stronger, healthier and more normal as the weeks go by.
My continued monthly check-ups with my MDT team are going well and good progress is being made.
I have a few health issues that need to be dealt with, post treatment but my team remain confident they can resolve these, it just takes time.
One issue is the puffiness/swelling I have around my neck and I have a continuing mucus build up in my sinus and tubes within the ears which affects my hearing. This condition is apparently not uncommon after head and neck cancer treatments. A course of MLD massage was advised and enquiries were made to find a local practitioner with the HRCC team playing a vital role in making this happen.
On October 22 I received the most life changing news in that my most recent MRI scan had shown that my tumour had gone and no disease was present. I had beaten it.
HRCC has helped me in so many ways; from the moment I was introduced to it, I have been given support and help throughout. Even if it was to sit in peace and quiet while waiting for radiotherapy, even the smallest of things make the biggest of differences.
The charity has so far provided me with 12 counselling sessions, a number of aromatherapy massages and most recently a course of MLD massage.
Through the counselling I had at the Support Centre at The Rivers Hospital I was given some very useful tools in dealing with my thoughts and emotions which helped me deal with life after cancer.
The charity has helped me realise that the feelings and emotions I experienced while going through my treatments were normal and that I was not alone.
Indirectly the charity has helped my family as when they see me getting better their own fears and worries lessen. I know that if I ever need advice or help there will always be someone at the charity who will try to help. I am so grateful for everything it has done for me.
THE THERAPIST: Carol-Ann’s story
The funding of MLD for patients by HRCC is invaluable as provision on the NHS is severely limited, and often lymphoedema units can only offer bandaging and compression garments.
We are able to offer MLD massage in addition to compression therapy. I also use a Hivamat deep oscillation unit at my private clinic in Bishop’s Stortford.
This additional non-invasive, non traumatic therapy, combined with MLD, increases the effectiveness of the treatment.
I joined the team as lymphoedema therapist in April 2014 after undergoing extensive training, and experience at leading cancer hospitals such as the Christie Hospital in Manchester and the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
Secondary lymphoedema is a debilitating condition which can result as a consequence of cancer treatment. It can have a far reaching psychological effect on patients, and also severely restrict daily living activities due to severely swollen limbs.
MLD and compression therapy can be very effective in reducing the oedema. Patients are also shown a simple lymphatic drainage technique which enables them to be proactive in maintaining the condition along with the appropriate skin care regimes and exercises.
As well as treating lymphoedema and lipoedema I am also a qualified aromatherapist, reflexologist and physiotherapist. I have undertaken post-graduate training in the role of complementary therapies in cancer care, and am a great advocate of the important role that charities and hospices like HRCC undertake, enabling patients to benefit from these valuable treatments.
THE CENTRE MANAGER: Heather Bird
I feel privileged to be working for an organisation that really does make a difference to the quality of life of our patients as they cope with their illness and treatment.
MLD: making a difference
Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a gentle type of massage which is intended to encourage the natural drainage of the lymph into the subclavian veins where it then mixes back into the blood circulation.