News posted 3 May, 2024

Myeloma UK Award to Manchester Royal Infirmary Haemotology Department

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Manchester Royal Infirmary has scooped a national award for its commitment to patients living with incurable blood cancer.

The hospital’s haematology team was presented today with the Myeloma UK Clinical Service Excellence Programme (CSEP) Award in recognition of its outstanding care and dedication to patients with myeloma, an incurable blood cancer which claims the lives of 3,000 people in the UK each year.

This is the second time Manchester Royal Infirmary has received the award, which is only handed to a select few hospitals every four years.

Staff were praised for their efforts to improve patients’ quality of life and eagerness to adapt and listen to their needs.

The accolade, awarded by blood cancer charity Myeloma UK, recognises hospitals’ commitment to raising the bar for treatment and providing compassionate care.

Jenna Fielding, Haematology Consultant at Manchester Royal Infirmary, said: “There have been a number of changes and challenges in hospital services over the last few years so receiving this acknowledgement is a testament to all of the hard work our team has put in.

“We use the diverse strengths of all of our team to maximise the skills mix on offer to our patients. We are continuing to expand and develop the service to ensure that our patients have early access to the rapidly developing treatments available.”

Myeloma is especially hard to spot as the symptoms are often vague and dismissed as ageing or other minor conditions.

By the time many patients are diagnosed their cancer has often advanced and they require urgent treatment. This can significantly impact their chances of survival and quality of life.

Rhys Owens, Clinical Practice Services Senior Projects Officer at Myeloma UK, said: “Myeloma is a challenging cancer which keeps coming back and can be really difficult to cope with both physically and mentally, so we were hugely impressed with the hospital’s efforts to ease patients’ burden.

“Being able to switch or tweak myeloma treatments quickly and help patients cope with side effects is vital so a pharmacist is on hand during appointments to make sure they are given every chance to keep their disease in check. If needed, a geriatrics specialist is also available to offer advice and further support.

“To see the team going the extra mile day after day to give those affected by myeloma a fighting chance to live well for as long as possible is truly inspiring.”

Dawn Dickenson, a mother from Cheadle Hulme, was diagnosed with incurable cancer back in October 2015 after doctors spotted a mass the “size of a grapefruit on [her] belly”.

She was 56 years old.

By the time her myeloma was caught, the cancer had started weakening her bones. She also had holes, known as lesions, in her pelvis and hip.

But nearly nine years on, Dawn is still defying the odds thanks to the team at Manchester Royal Infirmary. With staff’s support she’s determined to lead a full life and not let cancer get in her way.

“I was quite surprised and shocked when I was first diagnosed,” said the 65-year-old. “I didn’t really take it in at that point that it was incurable but treatable. They were so reassuring in the beginning. I’m so thrilled they’ve got this award. It’s nothing less than they deserve. I’m grateful I’m able to do what I want to do now thanks to them.

“The kindness of these people amazes me. If you have to go to hospital I can’t think of anywhere better. They’ve been absolutely fabulous.”

Myeloma occurs in the bone marrow and currently affects over 24,000 people in the UK.

It is a relapsing-remitting cancer, meaning that although many patients will experience periods of remission following treatment, the disease will inevitably return.

More than half of patients face a wait of over five months to receive the right diagnosis and around a third are diagnosed through A&E.

While it is incurable, myeloma is treatable in the majority of cases. Treatment is aimed at controlling the disease, relieving the complications and symptoms it causes, and extending and improving patients’ quality of life.

Looking back, Dawn’s health had started deteriorating months, if not years, before her diagnosis.

“I had started struggling with walking and being stood for a long time in one place probably up to two years before I was diagnosed,” said the retired accountant. “I used to sell the tickets at Stockport County and I would be constantly moving in a small circle. I would get back from the match and have to lie on the settee propped up against cushions. After two or three days the pain would go away. I have quite a high pain threshold because of the way I was brought up. It was always a case of getting on with it.”

Things came to a head in 2015, when she began experiencing constant pain in her hip.

She saw a chiropractor, but her symptoms went from bad to worse. By the time she returned from a holiday that summer, she was “struggling to walk more than a few meters before being in pain”. She booked herself in for an X-ray through her work’s private health insurance. When it came back inconclusive, doctors suggested an MRI.

This time the scan showed a cancerous mass “the size of grapefruit on [her] belly”.

After more tests, it became clear the tumour, known as a plasmacytoma, was a complication of the blood cancer myeloma.

The cancer had started to eat away at her bones and she had holes in her pelvis and hip.

“There were about 14/15 weeks of tests and after they found the mass it all snowballed,” she recalled. “They said I’d actually saved myself six weeks by going private initially.”

She added: “I don’t know why but right from the beginning, in my head it was, ‘Right, let’s deal with this’. It was very tiring, but I just got on with it.”

Dawn enrolled in a clinical trial before receiving a stem cell transplant in 2016. She’s been in full remission ever since.

The cancer has taken its toll over the years. Dawn has not only had to contend with the rollercoaster of intensive treatment but difficult side effects. Myeloma has affected her mobility and she now uses a walking stick.

But she is determined to live life to the fullest, enjoy foreign holidays and show fellow patients “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel”.

“I made the mistake of asking what the average remission was and when [my doctor] said four years I turned around and said, ‘I’m aiming for 14 years then’,” she said. “My attitude is: this thing won’t stop me. I’m in my eighth year of full remission and I’m feeling good. I’ve been able to travel and we try to fit in two or three holidays a year. To be honest, people can’t believe I’m still living as normally as I am. It’s not been easy but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”