When thirty-four year-old Leanne Molloy found that she had to stand up and ‘jiggle’ her body to get food to go down, she knew she had a problem!
“I suffer from anxiety” Leanne, 35, said: “so when I started to feel that my heart was missing a beat, I had an ECG. Unfortunately, the first lockdown happened and so everything went by the wayside and I didn’t get the results.
“In November, I had a small birthday party for my daughter but when I ate a few chips, I felt something getting caught in my throat.
“This started happening on a regular basis. Sometimes I’d eat and be fine, but one evening I was eating soup and bread and I knew there was something wrong. I increasingly had to stand up and ‘jiggle’ my body until I felt the food passing. Sometimes I had to make myself sick just to get it up.
“There were things that I could eat with no difficulty, but other things would stick. I learnt to jiggle my hands up and got my husband to look after our daughter so I could go out of the room and jiggle. I was always a fast eater but I didn’t chew properly, so I began to eat more slowly and not at my husband’s pace. Put simply, I was changing my habits to suit the symptoms, rather than getting the symptoms sorted.
“Over time I spoke to the GP and told him there was pain going into my shoulder blade. I’d also started to lose weight but that’s because I wasn’t eating properly. The GP gave me more tests and then arranged for me to go to the hospital on a Sunday morning for a test. There were so many there I nearly walked out.
“I had the scope but, because I didn’t get sedated, I was aware of what was going on and I noticed that two nurses were going over the notes and talking. Then I was moved into another room and somebody came in and asked for bloods. They also asked me where my husband was. He was in the waiting area. They went and got him and I was called into another room. My husband came in and we looked at each other. When they told me they’d found something, I was so relieved cos I knew there was something. The consultant said they’d found something at the bottom of my oesophagus. I said ‘cancer’? I just came out with it. The consultant said, ‘Yes, it’s looking very like it’. I was just numb.”
Leanne, from Castlewellan, works in a pharmacy and, despite the fact that she’d just received earth-shattering news, the consultant advised her to continue working as it would take a week for the results to come through.
“People were coming into the pharmacy and I was walking round in a daze,’ she said. “Then, one day I got a phone call to go home as it had been confirmed that I had oesophageal cancer.
“After that, life was just a whirlwind of tests, scans and waiting on results. Waiting for the results was actually the worst thing. We decided not to tell our daughter because we were in the middle of the pandemic and I wasn’t going to put an eight-year-old through any more.
“I had to have chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumour and I was immediately concerned that everything would be thrown up into the air with the pandemic. Fortunately, I was able to get four cycles of chemotherapy, then had my surgery and then another four cycles: a sort of ‘mop-up’.
“I had the four slots in March and April, and then in May I had to build myself back up for surgery on 16 June. They told me I’d be in ICU for three days, but I was in overnight and back onto the ward the following day. I remember joking with the doctor about making history for getting out faster than anyone! I was in and out in the week and I was back out walking six weeks after the surgery.
“I think that, when it comes to cancer treatment, you have to push your limits to get on with it. I always knew the second cycle of chemotherapy would be bad; the first one nearly killed me and I nearly gave up. There was also the possibility of spread to the lymph nodes, so, instead of giving me false hope, the doctors said they thought it had. But after surgery they tested all the lymph nodes – about 17 of them – and not one of them was cancerous. I was overwhelmed by that. I heard that I had to do another four but it was entirely up to myself. I’m glad I did the whole range because now I know that I can look back and say, I did everything I could”.
“When I heard that my tumour was only one millimetre away from the cavity wall, I knew that someone had been looking down on me. One millimetre is a wee dot. If it had got in there, I wouldn’t have been eligible for surgery.”
Following her surgery and chemotherapy, Leanne’s family and friends rallied around to help her.
“My support has been incredible,’ she said. ‘Absolutely amazing. My husband, Brian, took time off work and my mum took ten months off. Our daughter has been home the whole time and the school worked with me to help her.
“I think the pandemic worked in my favour because no one could carry germs to me and it also brought mental benefits in that I didn’t have to keep having the ‘cancer conversation’ with everyone.”
Working in the pharmacy has convinced Leanne that pharmacists and their teams have a role to play in spotting the signs of potential oesophageal cancer.
“We all notice people coming in and buying reflux and heartburn remedies on a regular basis, so it may be an idea for pharmacists advising someone who repeat buys to ensure they have a diagnosis from their GP rather than self medicating and ignoring symptoms.
“Cancer is a scary word to hear, but if it’s caught early, there are a lot of treatment options available now. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s all about getting it early and knowing your body. You just have to suck it up and get on with it. Take it on the chin.
“I’m so thankful for being given a second chance. It’s been a hell of a roller coaster, but I’ve had more good days than bad days.”
For further information go to ogcancerni.com, follow #OGCancerNI, call 07568 157450 or make an appointment to see your local GP today.
Update on Implementation of Mental Health Action Plan
A progress update on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Mental Health Action Plan has been published.
The Action Plan was first published in May 2020 and contains 38 actions which will improve mental health services going forward. It also includes a plan on dealing with the mental health response to the Covid-19 crisis.
Commenting on the update, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “It is now 12 months since I published the Mental Health Action Plan and I felt it was important to provide an update on this work at this key juncture.
“I am pleased to report substantial progress has been made against the actions contained in the Action Plan. This is a considerable achievement, particularly given the additional, significant pressures related to Covid-19 and the challenges encountered by all those working to support people with mental ill health during this period.”
The progress update highlights key achievements including:
- The creation of a Mental Health Champion;
- Approval of the business case and securing of £4.7m funding for the development of a specialist perinatal mental health community service model;
- The establishment of the CAMHS and Forensic Mental Health Managed Care Networks; and
- The launch of a Mental Health Innovation Fund.
A number of reviews of key services were also commissioned as part of the Mental Health Action Plan including a review of: crisis services; transitions from CAMHS to Adult Mental Health Services; eating disorder services; personality disorder services; low secure in-patient services; and rehabilitation services. The outworking of these reviews will help inform future strategic policy and service delivery.
Minister Swann continued: “The progress that has been made is due in no small part to the drive and dedication of so many people working tirelessly to improve services and to ensure that mental health is given the priority and profile it deserves.
“However, challenges remain and much still needs to be done. The Action Plan was always intended as a short term measure to kick start the reform of mental health services.”
One of the key actions set out in the Mental Health Action Plan was to develop a new, ten year Mental Health Strategy for Northern Ireland.
Concluding Minister Swann said: “The Strategy is my Department’s long term strategic plan to address the pressure on mental health inpatient beds, to meet the increased needs created by the pandemic, and to put mental health on an even footing with physical health. I also hope it will bring us in line with mental health provision in other parts of the UK, and indeed, once fully implemented, ensure Northern Ireland has a world class mental health system to be proud of.”
The draft Mental Health Strategy 2021-31 was issued for public consultation in December 2020. It is intended to publish the final Strategy this summer alongside a funding plan, which sets out the resource requirements to implement the Strategy.
The Rainbow Project Welcome Introduction of Fair Project on Blood Donations
The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) will soon be starting to assess donor eligibility on a person-by-person basis for declared lifestyle choices; instead of applying across-the-board restrictions which have previously excluded potential donors. Using a donor’s individual experiences to determine whether that person is eligible to donate makes the process fairer for all donors and means more people will be able to give blood than ever before.
It also means all donors will be asked the same questions – regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
These changes to the way UK blood services assess the risk of transfusion transmitted infections incorporate the key recommendations of the 2020 FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) Report. The recommendations were designed by epidemiology, sexual health and infectious disease experts to make sure we keep the blood supply safe while making blood donation fairer and more accessible to all. NIBTS are working in collaboration with Rainbow Project to ensure all those eligible to donate blood can do so safely.
The new FAIR risk assessment will be implemented in England, Scotland and Wales will come into effect on 14th June 2021, while in Northern Ireland the change won’t come into effect until September 2021.
Best Available Medical Evidence
Speaking about the change, Director of The Rainbow Project John O’Doherty said: “We welcome the implementation of the Fair Report and the new rules surrounding blood donations. These changes mean a large number of people who have never been able to donate blood will be eligible to do so. We would like to thank the Health Minister, Robin Swann, for ensuring that decisions related to blood donations are based wholly on the best available medical evidence and that policies are implemented on a UK wide basis.
“This is an issue we have been campaigning on for over 10 years including the implementation of an individualised risk assessment. During that time, we have been clear that donating blood is not a right, but a civic responsibility on all of us who are eligible to do so. The focus of The Rainbow Project will now turn to encouraging all those people who are now eligible to register as blood donors. Security and sustainability in our blood supply is a continued pressure across our health service – and while vocal and visible support for the NHS during the pandemic is to be welcomed – one of the most effective ways we can support our NHS is through donating blood.
“While we are disappointed that Northern Ireland will not be implementing the new assessment at the same time as the rest of the UK, we understand the reasons behind this and welcome the ongoing communication from the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service and their commitment to ensuring staff are trained on the use of the new assessment process. The COVID 19 pandemic has had a huge impact on all aspects of our health service. Rather than spending the next 3 months condemning the Blood Transfusion Service, we will be directing our resources towards supporting the implementation of the new system and encouraging all those who are eligible to donate blood.