Friarage recognised for support to patients with incurable blood cancer

Rishi Sunak with patient Anita Lee (left) and her friend Rebecca.

Rishi Sunak has presented staff at Friarage Hospital with the Myeloma UK Award for their commitment to patients living with incurable blood cancer.

The Prime Minister and MP for Richmond praised the team for going above and beyond to improve the lives of people with myeloma.

A national accolade awarded by blood cancer charity Myeloma UK, the Myeloma UK Clinical Service Excellence Programme (CSEP) Award recognises hospitals’ commitment to raising the bar for treatment and providing compassionate care.

Mr Sunak said: “It was great to meet the team and some of the patients who have benefited from the excellent standard of care which is rightly recognised through this award.

“The skills and compassion of the team delivering this treatment was so evident in what the patients told me about what was being done for them.

“This is another example of the wonderful healthcare provided by staff at the Friarage Hospital, helping to demonstrate that it has a bright future.”

Sarah Clarkson, haematology clinical support sister at Friarage Hospital, added: “We are delighted to have been accredited with the Myeloma UK CSEP Award.

“Our aim is to deliver optimum treatment and care for myeloma patients by offering an individualised approach.

“Managing the care and treatment for myeloma can be complex and we aim to continuously improve this by gaining a deeper understanding through sharing knowledge and information.

“We are extremely grateful to Myeloma UK for their support and look forward to working with them to continue delivering the best outcomes for our patients.”

Myeloma claims the lives of 3,000 people in the UK each year.

It 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.

Suzanne Renwick, head of clinical practice services at blood cancer charity at Myeloma UK, said: “Myeloma is a challenging cancer that can turn on a dime, so we were hugely impressed with the team’s efforts to adapt to patients’ needs and make sure they are given every chance to keep their disease in check – no matter where they live.

“Thanks to the haematology community outreach team patients can receive chemotherapy from the comfort of their own home, sparing those further afield from exhausting back-and-forth trips to hospital. Nurses also travel to patients’ homes to discuss treatment options.

“Not only does it make the rollercoaster of intensive treatment that little bit easier but goes a long way to remove some of the stress and anxiety of living with incurable cancer. Crucially, it allows patients to regain a much-needed sense of control and autonomy they may feel they’ve lost since their diagnosis.”

Anita Lee, from East Cowton, was diagnosed with myeloma in June 2022 after months of excruciating back pain left her bedridden.

The mother-of-two was 62 years old.

Unbeknown to her, the cancer had started eating away at her bones and her back was broken.

Anita has now thanked the team at Friarage Hospital for supporting her through intensive treatment and saving her life.

“The haematology team are wonderful,” said the 64-year-old.

“They’ve touched my heart. I can’t say enough good things about them.

“I got sepsis after my stem cell transplant and [my nurses] Jennie and Sarah came to visit me at my house.

“They’re both so kind and lovely. I cried and they hugged me.

“It meant they cared, that they knew I’d had a tough time after the sepsis. I know I would never be able to get the same treatment from anywhere else.

“Nothing is too much for anybody. It doesn’t matter if I email with a stupid question, they will ring me or email me back.”

Myeloma occurs in the bone marrow and currently affects over 24,000 people in the UK.

It is a relapsing-remitting cancer, meaning that although many patients will experience periods of remission following treatment, the disease will inevitably return.

More than half of patients face a wait of over five months to receive the right diagnosis and around a third are diagnosed through A&E.

While it is incurable, myeloma is treatable in the majority of cases.

Treatment is aimed at controlling the disease, relieving the complications and symptoms it causes, and extending and improving patients’ quality of life.

Anita, a grandmother-of-two, knew something was wrong when she started experiencing agonising back pain.

She went to see her GP but her pain was initially put down to a kidney infection.

Later, it was chalked up to muscle ache.

Three months after her symptoms first began, Anita was diagnosed with myeloma.

Scans showed her spine was broken.

The diagnosis was a complete shock for Anita, who was still reeling from losing her mum to lymphoma, another type of blood cancer, the previous year.

“I couldn’t get out of bed,” she recalled. “They think now I could have it for a very long time. It’s quite an awful cancer. It’s frightening. It’s not like there’s something they can do to take it out.”

She added: “I had not had time to grieve for my mum and then the doctor rang me to say I had blood cancer. I went cold inside.”

But being treated by the same team who had cared for her mother for so many years was a relief, she explained.

 “They looked after my mum very well and it was a comfort that I already knew them. When my mum died my heart turned to stone and now they’re bringing it back.”

 Anita received radiotherapy to tackle the break in her spine, followed by chemotherapy.

She had a stem cell transplant in 2023.

Thankfully she’s now in remission but the cancer has taken its toll.

She had to give up work.

Her mobility was so badly affected she had to use a wheelchair for many months. And she’s been left with severe back pain. She takes 12 painkillers a day just to cope.

“I’ve lost a bit height and for a long time last year I had to use a wheelchair,” she went on.

“It was awful. I’m usually the strong person helping everybody else and I was the one who needed help. I was more sad than anything about it.

“But the team have been there for me. And I’m not going to let it beat me, not if I can help it. I’m determined to get a good few years.”