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Blog: 'I can’t afford to take my foot of the gas'

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Our expert cancer blogger and NT Award winner Liz Darlison talks about hopes and fears for the National Cancer Leadership Programme, and her punishing work schedule

This is the invitation from Sara Lister, Royal Marsden Assistant Chief Nurse and Head of School, to attend Module 1 of the National Cancer Leadership Programme.

Dear Liz,
I am looking forward to seeing you all again on 24th April at Barnett Hill in Surrey. The venue is a conference centre in fantastic grounds in the Surrey Countryside.
Cheryl Richardson, Superintendent Radiographer at the Royal Marsden will be co-facilitating the programme with me. We will be joined by Shelley Dolan, Chief Nurse, on day two.
Dress during the day is smart-casual. We will be having a more formal dinner in the evening so I would suggest that you bring an appropriate change of clothes. There will be time between the sessions and dinner on the first day for you to use the small gym or go for a run in you wish.
We would like you to get the most out of this programme so we ask that you inform your colleagues that you are unavailable to be contacted. This will allow you to relax and avoid worrying about anything that is going on in your workplace.
During these two day we will introduce you to the 360° Leadership Effectiveness Analysis and begin to look at some of the current issues in cancer care. In preparation please have a look at the Cancer Reform Strategy.
I hope you have a good journey but if you have any problems on the day please contact me on ………… (personal mobile number)
Yours sincerely
Sara Lister
Programme director

Reading the letter in the middle of a busy day at Mesothelioma UK, I thought briefly about the impending module and the course in general.

I wondered what to wear, and had my own take on the points raised in the letter:

  • ‘Go for a run if you wish’ - Oh no I bet they are all super fit, water drinking, veggies!

  • ‘Time between the sessions’ - That will be a breath of fresh air, a little R&R in my busy schedule is always welcome.

  • 'The Cancer Reform Strategy' - I must remember to refresh my memory and reread it beforehand.

  • ‘360° Leadership Effectiveness’ - Time to hear the truth about where I am in all this I guess!

And then there’s my Alan Sugar thought again. What have I let myself in for?

I promise to prepare well. I am convinced I can’t afford to take my foot of the gas.

A busy Meso UK day usually involves a few helpline calls or emails. Fifty-five per cent of contacts to our service are from patients/carers who are living with Meso every day, grappling with treatment, trying to make choices, dealing with the benefits system for the first time and worried they are missing out on some miraculous cure available elsewhere. Or they may just be feeling generally lost, alone and frightened.

I usually have issues relating to my local caseload of patients to address, perhaps a referral to a member of the wider healthcare team or a discussion with a worried relative or carer. I also lead a local team of nurse specialists and work on projects related to Meso UK, some of which I hope to share with you along the way.

I spend an extraordinary amount of time preparing presentations and lectures about Mesothelioma and the work of Meso UK for conferences up and down the country and for pre- and post-graduate nursing programmes. I am always delighted to be able to share my Meso knowledge and expertise. Mostly I consider it a patient advocacy role, spreading the gospel about the needs of patients and carers.

Not wanting to be alarmist, I also consider presenting and lecturing to be about health education. Many of our current public service buildings such as schools, libraries and hospitals were built during our peak asbestos consumption years, highlighting the injustice of asbestos-related industrial diseases such as Mesothelioma. None of us are spared the risk of being exposed to asbestos.

Over the next three weeks I will be presenting in various settings and organisations. I will be in Portsmouth at a Meso meeting for over 250 health care professionals, Kent at another meeting for 180. I will also be presenting at a Celebration of Nursing event organised by the University Hospitals of Leicester nurse consultant group, which I am a member of. The group nominated me to present about my leadership experience because I won the Cancer Nurse Leader Award. Finally I have been invited to speak at the All-Party Parliamentary Asbestos Group meeting in the House of Commons. All in a day's work eh!

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