The James Cook University Hospital has scooped a national award for its commitment to patients living with incurable blood cancer for the second time.
The hospital’s haematology team was today (Tuesday 18 April) presented 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.
Staff were praised for their efforts to improve patients’ quality of life and eagerness to adapt and truly listen to their needs.
The accolade, awarded by charity Myeloma UK, recognises hospitals’ commitment to raising the bar for treatment and providing compassionate care.
Dr Raymond Dang, Consultant Haematologist at James Cook, said: ”We are truly honoured, and humbled, to be receiving the CSEP award for the second time. This will drive us to try even harder to make sure we provide the best service possible to patients and their families.
“At James Cook, we are proud to be working as a well-connected and happy team.
"I hope our joy in what we do is visible to patients and gives them confidence that their myeloma care is in very good hands.''
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.
Jess Turner, Clinical Practice Services Programme Manager at Myeloma UK, said: “To be able to present this award to the team on our charity’s 25th anniversary has made this occasion even more special and truly shows how far we’ve come in the treatment of myeloma over the past two decades.
“Myeloma is a complex cancer which can be challenging to manage so we were extremely impressed by the team’s willingness and ability to adapt to patients’ needs.
“A Cancer Care Coordinator is on hand to help with the myriad issues facing patients, from getting access to physiotherapy and social workers to housing, financial and employment support. The hospital also offers local access to MRIs and PET CT scans, which are key to diagnosing myeloma early.
“Best of all, the outreach service is a great example of staff’s efforts to, quite literally, go the extra mile to support the most vulnerable. Thanks to Haematology Outreach Nurse Specialist Helen Walker and her team, patients get to receive treatment and blood tests in the comfort and safety of their own home or care home, saving them from exhausting and, in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis, potentially expensive trips to the hospital.”
Patient Ian Carrick, from Normanby, had already beaten one type of cancer just a few years earlier when he was hit with the news he had myeloma back in 2020.
By the time his incurable blood cancer was caught he had a broken back and three tumours pushing down on his spine.
He and his wife Carole creditthe team at James Cook for supporting them through one of the most difficult times in their lives and going above and beyond during lockdown.
“Outreach nurses came all through the lockdown and they never let us down,” said Ian, 79.
“They became more like friends to us. Everybody has been so kind. We really and truly can’t praise them enough.”
Carole, who worked for the NHS, added: “Ian was so poorly I don’t know how we would have got him to the hospital at the time. The nurses have always said, ‘When we see Ian’s name on the list, we’re fighting to see who gets to go see him’. They’ve been wonderful.
“Helen Walker, who is Ian’s key worker, has been so patient. I was so frightened, and I kept asking questions. If there was anything she couldn’t answer, she would find out and ring me back. She always did.”
Ian, a retired civil engineer, had only recently turned 70 when he was diagnosed with a cancerous mass on his pelvis, known as a plasmacytoma, in 2013. He swiftly received radiotherapy.
But his recovery was only short-lived.
In 2020, he started experiencing severe back pain, which quickly spread to his chest. Soon, he was a shell of his former self, unable to stand up, sleep or eat properly.
Eventually an X-ray showed one of his vertebrae had collapsed. He also had three tumours pressing on his spine – all as a result of myeloma.
The cancer was incurable.
“I started having back pain in March 2020, I remember it was our daughter’s birthday,” recalled the father-of-two. “I was in my 70s so I put it down to that.
“It’s incurable, we knew that from the beginning. I know I’m on borrowed time but we enjoy every day and we go on as we always do.”
His wife Carole added: “I’m not saying we don’t have our moments where we’ve not been able to sleep but we both have a very positive attitude. Taking it a day at a time is the best way to do that.”
Ian underwent chemotherapy. Unfortunately, he’d only just finished his seventh cycle when he had a heart attack in June 2022. He had stents put in.
Over the years, myeloma has taken its toll and affected his mobility. And Ian now uses a walking stick.
Even so, the grandfather-of-four takes each day as it comes, thankful to have been given more precious years with his loved ones. “Even after all the treatments you can still be enjoying your life,” he said.
“Everybody at the hospital has been absolutely superb. They give us peace of mind.”