“I’m not angry. Anger is not a very productive emotion. I was so relieved to actually find out what was wrong with me”
In the latest episode of UTV’s Up Close series, reporter Alison Fleming also speaks to top health professionals about the hopes for the Department of Health’s 10-year cancer strategy.
One shocking story is that of Ballymena woman Alison Graham, who went to a GP with fatigue and weight loss in November 2019. It was diagnosed as a viral infection.
Despite medication and fortnightly blood tests, there was no improvement and she was eventually referred to Antrim Area Hospital.
Though doctors told her she did need to be seen, there was no indication of when an appointment would be available due to the pandemic.
“‘It could be months’. Those were the words. I didn’t know then, but I didn’t have months,” explained Alison.
“I ended up going privately and I was diagnosed in June 2020 with rectal cancer. I got CT scans done that day, it was of three areas, and they noticed something on the chest area.”
After more tests, she was told the disease had spread to her lungs and progressed to stage four.
“I’m not angry. Anger is not a very productive emotion, and I’m definitely not angry. I was so relieved to actually find out what was wrong with me,” she said.
Asked what would have happened if she hadn’t gone private, Alison added: “I would be dead.”
Almost three years on from starting to show symptoms she “feels great” and hasn’t had treatment in 15 months despite a life expectancy said to be 18 months to two years.
“This was the year to die, but we’re not having any of that. We’re not statistics, we’re thriving,” added Alison.
The programme also hears how staff retirements combined with a lack of recruitment and financial pressures are the main reasons why the 10-year plan to reform cancer services is struggling.
Health Minister Robin Swann believes the plan can fix the system.
“In 10 years’ time we should be looking back at what this strategy actually delivered, the difference it made and the life-changing effects it actually had on those people who needed the service,” he told the programme.
Professor Mark Taylor, of the Royal College of Surgeons, added: “I don’t think we can be having this conversation in 10 years’ time because I don’t think the prognosis for the NHS will survive 10 years.”
Heather Monteverde from Macmillan Cancer Care says of the strategy: “It can’t be a document that’s set in tablets of stone for the next 10 years. We need to look at what’s coming down the track and plan for it.
“But, yes, I’m very optimistic that things can change. But it’s going to take commitment from all the stakeholders and it’s going to take money.”
* Up Close airs on Tuesday at 10.45pm on UTV. You can catch up afterwards on www.itv.com/utvprogrammes