“I felt that I’d finally got back in control of my life. I was back to work after having 12 months of having loads of different stuff pumped into me and cut out of me. And then it all spiralled completely out of control,” reflects Amy Smart, after being told in April 2019 that her cancer had returned, just weeks after finishing treatment for primary breast cancer.
“I spent many months feeling very angry with myself that I was again at the mercy of appointments, different drugs and side effects. On Hope for Tomorrow’s Mobile Cancer Care Unit there was the most amazing nurse on the IV team, also called Amy. She saw me and asked if I was alright, I replied “No, not really”, and I just broke down in tears. We had a lovely chat, she immediately put me at ease and referred me to the palliative team for therapy, which helped both myself and my husband who was also coming to terms with things. The team helped work out a plan of action for me. I’m now on my fourth line of treatment.”
A former NHS healthcare assistant for 20 years, Amy, 41, who lives in Stroud with her husband and 8-year-old son, was forced to take ill health retirement from her job at Stroud General Hospital, where working with patients placed her at high risk during COVID. “It was hard enough just to function day to day, also being a parent while trying to squeeze in work too. I just ended up permanently exhausted. It was very sad, but it was the right decision.”
The five-minute walk from her home to the hospital where the unit was situated enabled her to combine treatment and work with minimal disruption, a convenience she was extremely grateful for.
“Before starting my shift, I used to just pop in for my Herceptin jab and come away, job done. It meant I didn’t have to travel to Cheltenham and back, saving me over an hour each time. It just frees up so much more time for you, I can just potter around at home. It’s also a lot less stressful because there is an awful lot that you have to deal with as it is.
“What I like about the unit is it’s much more relaxed. It’s more intimate so you can have a chat and a cup of tea; you’re all in there together. Unlike hospital, there’s no hanging around in a big clinical waiting room with lots of people, not knowing if you’ll see the same specialists as before. On the mobile unit, there’s only a maximum of three of you and the atmosphere immediately calms you. I’ve been seeing the same nurses since 2018, so I’ve got to know them – I have a little laugh and a joke with them.”
Amy has a chemo port implant, enabling treatment to be delivered more swiftly, but this requires specialist training in order for nurses to administer drugs in this way. Initially, this proved a problem prior to receiving treatment on the unit. “The district nurses were trained but as I was their only patient with a port, owing to logistics, they could only come out to me every three weeks rather than weekly. It was becoming a real struggle. Luckily, I was referred to the IV team on board the unit where I go every week for my dose of Kadcyla.
Amy, who is about to start radiotherapy again, is gradually adjusting to what she calls her “new normal”. “I do feel as though this is hanging over me all the time, but you still have to live your life. I’m just so thankful that Hope for Tomorrow exists to be able to offer access to such vital support. The banter and the laughs also count for a lot!”