A Co Antrim man has trekked the Antrim hills in support of the specialist nurse who cared for him during his treatment for cancer.
David Hill, 60, from Larne, was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma, affecting both his tongue and lymph nodes, in August 2020. Since then, he has been supported by Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Head & Neck Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist, Claire Duffy.
Speaking about his experience of treatment and being cared for by his specialist nurse, David said:
“When I was first diagnosed, friends who worked in the NHS kept telling me to find out who my specialist nurse was. My wife and I had so many questions, but before my first appointment at the Belfast City Hospital, I didn’t really know who to ask. I got to speak to Claire shortly after my first appointment, and having a specialist nurse, someone who knew exactly what was going on with my case, was fantastic.
“I had five sessions of Cisplatin chemotherapy and thirty sessions of radiotherapy between August and December last year. Going through treatment under restrictions due to Covid meant that most of my contact with Claire was over the phone, but she still made a huge difference in terms of providing honest information, signposting to support services and being a listening ear when I needed it. I was pleased to get to finally meet Claire in person near the end of my treatment just before Christmas.
“If we had any queries, anything at all, Claire would either have the answer, or find it out for me. For instance, I had bad radiotherapy burns, and when I finished treatment, Claire arranged for us to get additional support, where staff talked my wife through how best to treat my burns. Similarly, when I developed Lymphoedema during my treatment, Claire talked me through what it was and got me an urgent referral to help to treat it.
“Just simply having someone there at the end of the phone who is dedicated to helping you made such a difference.”
Explaining more about her role as Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Head & Neck Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist, Claire said:
“The term head and neck covers a wide range of tumour sites and types. The most common type of a head and neck cancer is a squamous cell carcinoma, which usually originate in the voice box, throat, tonsils, tongue, mouth, or nasal cavity.
“As the only nurse in Northern Ireland dedicated to caring for people with head and neck cancer who are receiving radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment, I am on hand to offer the additional support people need when dealing with this difficult diagnosis. I meet patients as soon after diagnosis as I can, I can support them in dealing with side effects during their treatment and will then help them after treatment in returning to some sort of normality.
“My role would not be possible without Friends of the Cancer Centre, and as well as funding my post, the charity has also funded specialist equipment for us to visualise the back of a patients throat and their voice box. The dedicated supporters of the charity have made my post a reality through their fundraising.”
After seeing first-hand the vital support provided by the charity, and both being supported by staff funded by Friends of the Cancer Centre, David and his friend Maura, who is recovering from breast cancer, decided to take on their own fundraising challenge. In May, David and Maura, supported by a small group of friends and family, completed an Antrim Hills trek, taking on the famous Cairncastle – Glenarm section of the Ulster Way, and raising over £2,250 to fund vital work supported by the charity.
Speaking about the challenge, David said:
“The trek was a big challenge for me as I am still rebuilding my strength following the completion of my treatment. I wanted to give back to the amazing team at the Cancer Centre who supported me and my family. It was such an achievement for me to complete the trek and I am delighted to be able to help those who helped me when I needed it most.”
If you would like to join David and Maura in raising vital funds to help local people affected by cancer, why not take on a challenge or hold your own event for Friends of the Cancer Centre?