A Lancashire nurse is back at work just months after undergoing a ground-breaking cancer treatment that will soon be offered at hospitals in the UK.
Barbara Green, who works in the outpatients’ department at Burnley General Hospital, was sent to the US for proton beam therapy (PBT) by leading cancer centre The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.
“The third time I was in total despair, I just wanted to crawl into a corner and disappear”
She was treated for a rare cancer of the spine, which had left her in severe pain and on long-term sick leave.
But just three months after returning home from the US, she is now back in uniform and working her normal shifts.
PBT, a specialist form of radiotherapy that targets tumours very precisely, has been on offer overseas to NHS patients since 2008.
From August next year, the Christie will become the first UK centre to provide the treatment with University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust set to follow suit in 2020.
“Patients like Barbara who are in pain and feeling very anxious and stressed, won’t have to undergo long plane flights”
Ms Green had already battled cancer twice before and undergone a double mastectomy, so was shocked to receive a third cancer diagnosis.
“To be told I had cancer for the third time was absolutely the worst thing,” she said. “The first two occasions had been bad but I managed to remain positive.
“But the third time I was in total despair, I just wanted to crawl into a corner and disappear,” said Ms Green.
As a nurse, she said she knew surgery to remove the mass on her spine came with the risk of leaving her doubly incontinent and in a wheelchair.
However, she was referred by specialists at the Royal Preston Hospital to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham and then on to the Christie, which confirmed she was suitable for PBT.
She was then flown out to Jacksonville in Florida, where she was treated daily with PBT for nine weeks.
Ms Green said she started feeling better halfway through and that without the treatment she would not have been able to return to nursing.
She added that she was glad UK patients would soon be able to get the treatment closer to home.
NHS co-operation sees nurse receive cancer treatment in US
“I can’t praise the care we had in the USA enough,” she said. “But going to the USA is just such a long way for such a long time. Having to travel there just added to the stress.
“If I’d been able to have PBT in Manchester, it would have been so much easier. I’m so glad that people will soon be able to get what I had without having to travel abroad,” she said.
Her consultant at the Christie, Dr Catherine Coyle, said the case was rare, complex and required co-operation from clinicians from more than one trust.
“Not everyone with a sarcoma can be helped by PBT, but we are delighted that Barbara was suitable to receive it, given how close it was to her bladder, bowel and delicate nerve systems,” she said.
“PBT treatment has given her a very good chance of tumour control without the side effects from surgery,” said Dr Coyle.
She added that the trust was looking forward to offering the treatment, which is particularly useful for treating certain cancers in children, helping avoid lasting damage to organs that are still growing.
“The Christie PBT facility will mean that patients like Barbara who are in pain and feeling very anxious and stressed, won’t have to undergo long plane flights to receive treatment thousands of miles from home,” she said.