Breast cancer patient
After spending six years providing full-time care for her friend, Kate, who had terminal cancer of the womb, retired school teacher, Meg Sutton, stayed in touch with Kate’s clinical oncologist, Professor Chan, and regularly donated money to the NUH Charity's Gynaecological Research Fund. Little did she know that five and a half years later she’d become a cancer patient herself.
Sixty-nine year old Meg had no worries attending what would be her last routine breast screen. She had no symptoms and was in typical good health. When she was recalled she initially assumed it was because of a technical problem, but it became apparent that the scan showed some micro calcifications and she was referred for a needle biopsy.
"I think there was about 90% chance that the calcification was benign, but somehow I just knew that I had cancer. I didn’t wait for the results before I Googled to find out about this type of cancer, and the possible treatments that were around. I am the sort of person who wants all the facts and information I can. I prefer to know the situation I’m in, so I can best deal with things."
Two days after the needle biopsy, Meg returned for the results and was told that she did have breast cancer although it was small, low grade and seemed unlikely to have spread to the lymph nodes.
She was referred to a consultant breast surgeon, Mr Robert D MacMillan, who recommended a lumpectomy during which a few sentinel nodes would be taken for sampling to make sure there was no spread. He also explained that he would remove what he hoped would be a small rim of clear tissue surrounding the cancer and that later this would be followed by a course of radiotherapy.
At a follow-up consultation a fortnight after the lumpectomy, Mr MacMillan explained that while the sentinel nodes taken for sampling were indeed clear, pre-cancerous cells had been found in the rim surrounding the tumour. He, therefore, recommended a re-excision to remove a little more tissue which, hopefully, would remove the pre-cancerous cells. If this did not happen, then he would consider a mastectomy.
"I wouldn’t have minded having a total mastectomy if there was any risk of leaving cancer cells behind, but Mr MacMillan explained that he honestly did not think this would be necessary. A fortnight after the second small operation it was confirmed that all cancerous and pre-cancerous tissue had been removed and once the wound had healed I would start my radiotherapy.
I was very blessed to have private health insurance. To me, the great advantage of my health cover was that it allowed me a degree of choice and from the moment of my diagnosis I knew I wanted Professor Chan to be my clinical oncologist supervising any non-surgical treatments. During the years of Kate's illness, Professor Chan and I had built a good relationship and had great confidence in his medical skill, but I knew we could talk frankly about treatments and eventual prognosis and this mattered to me a lot.
I had my surgery at the private Park Hospital but assumed I’d have the radiotherapy at The City Hospital which is just about within walking distance from my house. However, Professor Chan spoke excitedly about the new cancer centre which was just about to open and would use a more targeted type of radiotherapy. Even though it meant a bit of travelling each day, I was pleased to be able to be one of the very first patients there.
I don’t drive so was delighted when the people at the centre arranged a daily taxi for me. I always had the same driver, Roy, whom I got to know very well, which meant I had no worries about whether the taxi would turn up on time, or be able to find the centre."
Meg received 15 sessions of IMRT and IGRT spread over three weeks. She was given a choice of appointment times and soon fell into a routine of having her treatment at half past nine in the morning, which left the rest of the day free to do whatever she wanted.
"It was 'business as usual' – I had the radiotherapy, and then just got on with things.
I couldn’t have had better treatment. When I had previously accompanied Kate to her radiotherapy sessions, there was a lot of sitting around and waiting which led to her becoming very anxious and distressed, and she, unfortunately, experienced some painful blistering and nausea as a result of the treatment.
In contrast, there was no waiting around at Genesis Care – everything was in one place and I saw the same radiographers each time, who fully explained everything about my treatment and the possible side-effects. But apart from some slight reddening of the skin in the treated area, I had no real problems at all."
With all her family living in New Zealand and Australia, Meg was very thankful for the support and help she received not only from friends at her church but also from the staff and other patients she met at a cancer support group run at the centre.
"I know the cancer could return, but I've been told my prognosis is excellent. I feel very blessed. Under my consultants’ care, I’ve had the very best treatment. I feel very, very lucky that the Park Cancer Centre opened at the very time I needed my radiotherapy treatment. If you’ve got cancer, you couldn’t be in a better place. Life is good."