Around three years ago, Sue spotted a mole on the back of her thigh. “The doctor thought it was just a warty mole so it wasn’t diagnosed as melanoma. Then about six months later, I went back and I asked for it to be removed because it was catching on clothing, so it was sent off for biopsy. A phone call four weeks later confirmed it was melanoma.”
Further biopsies then followed over the coming weeks, which were carried out at Southmead Hospital in Bristol. It proved to be an eventful period, if not for the right reasons: “In the midst of it all, I went away and managed to fracture my femur – well, they say it never rains but it pours!”
Sue was referred to Cheltenham oncology, opting to have immunotherapy over targeted therapy. After starting her course of Nivolumab there, it wasn’t long before she heard about the Hope for Tomorrow mobile cancer care unit onsite at Cirencester Hospital.
“It means I can walk up there from my home which is brilliant. It doesn’t feel like I’m going to a hospital appointment. I’d rather not have to drive 18 miles to Cheltenham and park the car, then walk down endless corridors. I much prefer to be able to walk up to my local hospital and go to the mobile unit – it is just so much better. Better still, if you have to drive the short distance to the unit, the car park is free! The other good thing is I have my mammogram appointment on the same site, as the department is located in Cirencester hospital. So I knew exactly what to expect.”
Thanks to the unit, receiving her treatment so close to home means that Sue has saved herself two hours’ travel time – time she can put to much better use elsewhere. “The infusion only takes 15 minutes maximum. From there, I can then walk into Cirencester Park, which is absolutely enormous, and you can walk for miles. It’s my therapy. Being in a foreign town or city for treatment, especially one that’s busier and built up, makes it difficult to plan a long walk.”
She continues: “When you’re waiting in an oncology department, you’re often miles from anybody you know. You can’t really talk to anyone. So you end up making use of earplugs and your phone, just listening to music as a distraction. The unit is only small, but it means yo u can talk to everybody else and discuss your various diagnoses. It’s great, you just go in and they weigh you. And you get coffee and biscuits – the most important thing!”
She’s now “feeling fine” and is grabbing life by the scruff of the neck: “I’m swimming, walking and cycling. And scuba diving. When you retire, one of the things you realise is that you have the time to do what you want.”
If there are two things that have helped her overcome her journey of the last few years, she’s convinced it’s a combination of access to the “gentler” mobile unit and a positive mindset.
“A lot of it is positive thinking which makes a huge difference. I’m 75 and that means I want to carry on diving as long as I can, because there will come a time when I probably can’t possibly do everything I want. After hearing the ‘C’ word, some people sort of go inward on themselves and think only about things that are wrong. Instead, I’m saying to myself I’m going to get over this and carry on with life.”