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Inspiring cancer patients

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Oncology nurse Amanda Holdsworth knows first-hand what it’s like to have a cancer diagnosis and is able to motivate patients to lead active lives

Amanda Holdsworth joined a women’s running group in 2010. She began in the middle of the group, but as the weeks went by, she found herself running slower and slower, so she went to the doctor.

She first had a blood test and found out she was anaemic.

“As soon as I knew I was anaemic, and having worked within oncology, the first thing came into my mind was, ‘Oh, I’ve got cancer’,”Ms Holdsworth says.

The results of her colonoscopy confirmed her theory. She had bowel cancer.

Ms Holdsworth has been working as an oncologynurse for about 14 years.

She is currently involvedwith clinical trials as a chemotherapy research nurse, a position she’s held for the past four years.

“It was a bit strange being in the patient’s position because I always have to tryto not be the nurse,” she says. “I suppose because it was my field of knowledge sometimes the people don’t go into as much detail with you so it’s strange being on the receiving end.”

Ms Holdsworth was also involved in the “Both sides of the couch” project, which looks at people’s experience of being involved in cancer care and being treated for the disease.

“You almost think that if you work in the environment that you’re immune to it and that it won’t happen to you,” she says.

Ms Holdsworth didn’t have any family history of cancer, but she did have history of heart disease. She thought if she was ever going to get a disease that would be it.

“That’s why I’ve tried to keep fit,” she says. “I did everything to prevent heart disease and that should have prevented bowel cancer, too. It’s ironic really.”

Ms Holdsworth is now using her experience with cancer to motivate her patients to lead more optimistic and active lives.

“It has certainly made me more empathetic,” she says.

“I feel I can be more of an advocate for the patient in asking questions for them and also more open with my answers.”

She says she doesn’t avoid difficult questions about diagnosis or prognosis anymore because if a patient has the courage to ask the question, they deserve an honest answer.

“I can always put myself in the patient’s position and one thing I didn’t like was uncertainty,” Ms Holdsworth says.

Because of her experience on both sides, she knows that there can always be worse situations.

“Patients are pleased to see it can happen to anybody and it motivates them to think if you can do it, I can do it,” she says.

Ms Holdsworth says she wanted things to go back to normal as soon as possible after her treatment. She was back running six weeks after her surgery and she even ran while being treated with chemotherapy.

When her two-year scan came up, she told herself if everything was clear, she would apply for the London Marathon. It was and she did.

She is running the London Marathon in support of the Beating Bowel Cancer charity. Her original fundraising goal was £2,000 and she has now raised more than £2,800.

“I’ve been humbled by it,” she says. “People’s response has been great.”

“It’s almost like a bucket list,” Ms Holdsworth says. “Not that I’m planning on dying soon, but you realise what you want to do in life.”

She also thinks if patients see her doing a marathon three years after diagnosis, it can give them hope as well.

As part of her “bucket list,” she did a parachute jump last year for Maggie’s charity, a UK support charity for cancer patients and their families.

“I thought I’d give myself a big challenge,” Ms Holdsworth says.

She acknowledges that if she didn’t have cancer, she doesn’t think she would have gone for it. She encourages other patients to take on similar challenges.

“Try to put cancer in perspective,” she says. “Don’t let it take over your life. That’s why I do these things.”

Sara Barba

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