Meet Tracy: Cancer Nursing in Primary Care

I am Tracy Gallacher and I have recently joined Shore Medical Primary Care Network as Lead Cancer Nurse. Prior to this I worked as Lead Cancer Nurse for Poole Hospital and Lung Cancer Nurse Specialist.

My role is unique in that it is the first of its kind. I am very fortunate to be in a newly developed role as I can develop it to meet the needs of our local community. There are currently over 2,600 patients across Shore with a cancer diagnosis. For each person, their cancer journey will be unique, and the support people require may vary depending on their support networks. Part of my role is to ensure patients and their families feel supported within the local community.

 

My key aims:

  • Support and offer cancer care reviews to all patients with a cancer diagnosis
  • Signpost to the correct services ensuring they get the right support at the right time
  • Assessment of acute illness (cancer related) to ensure continuity, treatment support, admission avoidance or referral into secondary care
  • I am very keen to improve the links with secondary care ensuring seamless pathways and care co-ordination
  • Ensuring patients make informed decisions and opportunity to discuss their care – working closely with the palliative care teams to ensure advanced care planning is achieved
  • Referring into counselling teams

 

My other hat is:

  • Promote awareness that 4 in 10 cancers are preventable
  • We need to be diagnosing all cancers at an earlier stage – 75% of cancers diagnosed at stage 1-2
  • Encourage screening, and working with local communities to ensure people can access the right service at the right time
  • Working closely with Livewell Dorset to encourage lifestyle changes
  • Look at strategic goals and how we deliver these to our local community
  • Education of the existing workforce to improve knowledge and care
  • Raising awareness that in some cases cancer is now a long-term condition and patients should be supported to self-manage

 

Current projects:

  • Prostate screening for black men over 45s with a family history, symptoms
  • Auditing patients diagnosed as an early admission and seeing what we can learn to improve care and practice

 

I have worked in the NHS for 30 years and feel so passionately about improving cancer care and services in the local community. Cancer is not going away, and it is essential that investment is made in community. I hope my role will improve the patient experience and encourage new ways of working and show case the importance of care closer to home.

 

Patient Feedback:

Hi Tracy

Thank you so much for your time last week when xxxx and I came to Heatherview.

We both found the session really useful and reassuring and I just wanted to thank you for putting in place the actions we discussed so quickly.

I spoke to Peter who completed the necessary paperwork for PIP (personal independence payment) and to Mandy who was completing the Blue badge application. I have received confirmation that the PIP application is being processed.

I also received a call from the hospital radiotherapy doctor who kindly did a telephone consultation about the radiotherapy referral as he was unable to see me for a couple of weeks in clinic and am just awaiting a scan date.

I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to have had everything dealt with so quickly and efficiently by all concerned.

Exercise and the C’Fit Experience

We all know that exercise is good for us. But what if you’re a cancer patient?

Studies have shown that exercise is beneficial at all stages of your cancer journey. Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK, Penny Brohn UK and Maggie’s Centres all emphasise the benefits. Search their websites for ‘exercise’ and you’ll find lots of information.

In 2018 several C’Siders (a Weymouth and Portland Cancer Support Group) wanted to regain and improve their fitness after having treatment for various types of cancer.

These C’Siders had taken the opportunity of joining the Stepping Out cancer rehab exercise scheme in Bridport, with fully-qualified instructors who could give professional advice about what type of exercise they should be doing, and how much.

This was an excellent start and they all felt the benefits, but it was clear that something closer to home was needed. There was also likely to be many others in the area who could benefit from a supervised exercise scheme specifically for cancer patients.

C’Siders worked with Osprey Leisure Centre in Portland and secured grant funding to train an instructor, hire the venue and provide equipment. The first session saw 14 participants signed up, confirming that there was a need locally, and new attendees continue to be referred.

C’Fit was born.

 

What do we get from C’Fit?

When you get a cancer diagnosis, you can feel that you’ve been put on a conveyor belt of appointments and treatments over which you have no control. The decision to join an exercise group is a choice made by the cancer patient rather than something specifically prescribed by the medical team, so it gives you the feeling of having some control over your well-being.

Cancer patients can join at any stage during their diagnosis, treatment or recovery, but they must first get approval from a member of their medical team to confirm that exercise is suitable for them. The weekly sessions consist of a varied set of exercises with each participant working to their own level of ability, closely monitored by the instructor!

The first 12 weeks of attendance are provided free to the individual. After the 12 weeks, you can continue to take part on an ongoing basis for a small fee, and many do. These fees, together with ongoing financial support from C’Siders, pay for the free sessions for new attendees.

Participants report an improvement in physical ability and confidence. One told us that after just a few weeks, he ‘doesn’t need his walking stick all the time now’. Another said they “wish the classes were more often”!

Some may decide to go on to other fitness classes or other types of exercise. As our instructor says,  “find an exercise routine or sport you enjoy, as that will encourage you to continue”.

 

It’s not just about the exercise

There’s a certain camaraderie in the group and lasting friendships have been formed.

There’s the comfort of knowing that it is supervised and that the other participants are, or have been, in a similar situation with some type of cancer and treatments. People can share their stories and experiences if they want, which can be very reassuring if you are feeling down or suffering side-effects – you quickly realise it’s not just you.  Participants report feeling “welcomed, supported and understood”.

So, maybe it’s worth looking in your area to see if there’s something suitable for you.  Or get something set up if there isn’t yet!

 

Bob’s bladder cancer story

Bob wanted to share his cancer story as he felt it highlighted the importance of seeking medical advice and the benefits of early diagnosis.

Bob went to see his GP following some symptoms he thought needed to be checked out. The GP agreed she wanted his symptoms investigated further and arranged for him to have an ultrasound.

Bob then went on to have two further scans and following the third one, the specialist nurse confirmed that Bob had a growth in his bladder and that it was cancer.

Later that month, Bob had surgery to remove the growth. Through surgery, doctors discovered that the cancer was very aggressive, however not well advanced. Bob was told that if the cancer hadn’t been found at an early stage, it may have spread to other parts of his body. This only reinforces the importance of early diagnosis.

Bob then went onto receive treatment, the aim of which was to prevent the cancer returning. The treatment was regular for the first year and Bob described this as being “unpleasant and painful” a few days after each treatment session. Bob however, was adamant to complete his treatment after his nurse asked him if he wanted to continue “to me, there was no option not to” he said.

After the treatment, which lasted approximately 1 year, Bob was then asked to attend regular check-ups to monitor his bladder and check there was no recurrence. Bob has requested his check-ups are now maintained in three monthly intervals as he was not ready to wait six months in between appointments. His hospital team agreed to this and Bob continues to have three monthly examinations.

“The time from the ultrasound to surgery was only about two weeks. I thought this was amazing and a credit to the NHS and all those involved in my diagnosis, treatment, and aftercare. I consider myself to have been very fortunate”.

If you have noticed something different about your body, you know your normal and it is really important that you speak to a GP. It might not be serious but if it is cancer, catching it early can make a really big difference.

We would like to thank Bob for sharing his experience. You can watch his video here:

 

 

Read more about the symptoms of bladder cancer on the Cancer Research UK website.

 

Bob’s bowel cancer story

Having a bowel cancer diagnosis can be a daunting and scary time. Bob has kindly shared his experience of being diagnosed and treated for bowel cancer, to provide some reassurance for others that there is life after cancer.

Symptoms

Bob was feeling slightly unwell before a family trip to New Zealand in 2017. He was experiencing some constipation and suffering with stomach pains. Some medication helped relieve the symptoms but after the holiday, Bob went to see his GP because the symptoms returned.

The GP referred Bob for some investigations at his local hospital and in May 2017, Bob had a colonoscopy. The hospital asked his wife to come and collect him and before they went home, the Oncology nurse and surgeon spoke to Bob and his wife.

“I knew something was serious when they asked us to go into a side room and then told me that it looked highly likely I had bowel cancer.”

Diagnosis and treatment

Bob was surprised at his diagnosis because he only had the one symptom and considered himself to be healthy. He ate well, didn’t smoke or drink and was a regular gym-goer. The surgeon explained that there is no knowing who will and won’t get cancer and it is not something you can always pin-point or prevent. Bob was 68 when he was diagnosed.

In July 2017, Bob went in for his surgery, to remove the tumour in his bowel. His operation was carried out using a machine called the da Vinci robot.

“The surgeon checked that I fully understood what was going to happen and I felt very well informed. I just wanted the tumour out – I felt ‘grubby’ knowing it was inside me and was so relieved when it was gone.”

The operation was a success and they managed to complete the procedure without a need for a colostomy bag. They were also able to confirm that Bob’s cancer had not spread. Bob was then put onto four rounds of chemotherapy and some radiotherapy as well, followed by another round of chemotherapy which started in January 2018. When Bob’s treatment ended, he was given the all-clear and told that he didn’t need to be seen again for 6 months. Bob said it felt odd being told there was now a break in his appointments and so he started to attend a Dorset Cancer counselling group, which his oncology nurse had shared details of. He found the support to be extremely helpful.

“I still go to their monthly coffee mornings; it is a lovely group that I didn’t think I needed until I went.”

April 2022

Bob has been having 6-monthly blood tests and annual scans since his treatment finished and earlier this year, he had a colonoscopy that was all clear. He has been told by his cancer team that if his next round of blood tests and scans in July are all clear – then he will be discharged.

“I was a bit anxious when they said that which might sound odd, but it is like your support blanket is being taken away! I have a number I can call though, and I would not hesitate to seek advice from my GP if I noticed any changes in my health.”

Bob was keen to reassure people that might be putting off going to see their GP that cancer can be successfully treated, and he is enjoying getting back on with life.

Watch Bob’s video message here:

 

Visit our bowel cancer screening page to find out more about the national screening programme to detect bowel cancer in people who do not have symptoms.

 

Visit the Bowel Cancer UK website for more information about the condition, and how to support Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in April 2022.

 

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