Monday, 4 May 2015

M'aide! May Day!

Today I had the great honour of speaking at a rally which marked the end of a 3-day march for the NHS from Burton to Stoke. As if being invited to talk at this wasn't exciting enough, I actually spoke after the wonderful 91 year old war veteran Harry Smith. It was a privilege, and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to meet him. If you have not already seen his speech at Labour Conference, please take the time to watch it now. You'll be blown away and you'll probably shed a tear or two.

The march and the rally are part of a campaign opposing the planned privatisation of cancer care and end of life care in Staffordshire. You can find out more information about this here.

And here is what I said, and some photos from the day!


I'm not a politician or a political campaigner. I'm not a celebrity. And I'm not normally a public speaker! I'm a 34 year old woman who lives and works in Leicester. And on the 18th of July last year, at age 33, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I'd like start by reading you a short excerpt of a blog post I wrote about the day I was diagnosed. I'd gone to hospital for an ultrasound scan because I'd noticed a small change in my breast. I'd been examined by my GP and 2 breast care nurses, and no one could feel a lump, but because of my family history of breast and ovarian cancer, I was sent for the ultrasound scan anyway, to be extra cautious and to give me peace of mind.

This is what I wrote about the moment I found out I had cancer:

"I was called back in to the ultrasound room and told that the scans had shown "some changes" and that they wanted to take biopsies there and then.  I laid back down so they could scan me again to do the biopsies. What changes? There was a 22mm mass under my nipple, a 6mm mass a bit lower down, and some of my lymph nodes were enlarged. I was told that they would use a fine needle to take cells from the lymph nodes and the small mass and that it would be sharp like an injection. I didn't feel it. I was then given a local anaesthetic so they could take a core biopsy of the larger mass. I was told the local anaesthetic injection would sting for a moment. I didn't feel it. I just lay there, looking at the expression on their faces. One deadly serious, the other sympathetic. I asked if there was anything it could be other than cancer. "No..... I'm sorry."
I will never forget that moment. I won't forget the expression on her face. I won't forget the sound of her voice. That's the moment my life as I know it ended. Nothing will ever, ever be the same again. I feel like I'm still in that moment, like time hasn't really moved forward since then. I'm stuck lying there, looking away from the woman, and across to the dark image on the ultrasound screen, hearing the words "No.... I'm sorry" echoing round my head.
I don't remember leaving the room, or what happened next. The following few days are a blur."

My cancer treatment took 277 days and finished 2 weeks ago.

During that time I had:

3 ultrasound scans, 2 CT scans, 1 MRI, 1 mammogram.

3 biopsies, 2 Fine Needle Aspirations, 9 blood tests, 1 ECG.
I had 9 appointments with my surgeon, 8 appointments with my oncologists, 2 appointments at Genetics.
6 rounds, which is 18 weeks, of chemotherapy.

8 hours in surgery

15 rounds of radiotherapy.
I've spent 4 nights in hospital.
There have been 13 cannulas, 30 injections, 1 catheter, 3 drains.
I've had a lot of drugs including 1 general anaesthetic, 2 local anaesthetics, 4 different chemotherapy drugs, 3 types of anti sickness drugs, 2 kinds of antibiotic, 18 days on steroids, and all the painkillers ranging from paracetamol to morphine.
I've had 1 nipple, 10 lymph nodes and 2 cancerous tumours removed.

I've got scars. My hair, eyelashes and eyebrows fell out. My veins collapsed. But today, I'm standing here talking to you, alive and with no evidence of disease. And that is all thanks to the NHS.

It is thanks to my GP, my surgeon, my oncologists, and their registrars. It's thanks to the breast care nurses, the chemo nurses, the radiotherapy nurses, the ward nurses. It is thanks to the phlebotomists, the radiographers, the sonographers, the technicians, the pharmacists, the cleaning staff, the catering staff. It is thanks to all of the administrators, the receptionists, the people behind scenes within the NHS.
Not only did all of these NHS staff keep me alive, but they treated me with kindness and compassion, dignity and respect. I was able to trust them entirely. I was literally trusting them with my life. And I cannot speak highly enough of the care I have received.
But there is something else, very important, that I want to explain.
I'd like to just go back to the moment that I was diagnosed. My world stopped. Everything became a blur. I was in shock, and unable to think. There is very little that I remember about those early days. But one thing I do remember is that I was immediately given two key pieces of information.

The first was the name and phone number of my Breast Care Nurse - the person who would be my key contact throughout all of my treatment. One, named person, who I could go to about anything, at any time. The second was a card with the time of my appointment the following week to meet with my surgeon. My Breast Care Nurse and Surgeon are part of a multidisciplinary team that were allocated to me from day one. This team have been responsible for deciding and planning the best treatment for me. They've kept myself (and each other) informed at all times, answering my questions, explaining things I don't understand - but all the time taking the lead in ensuring I have swift and effective treatment.

From the very moment I was diagnosed, I felt like I had been picked up and was being carried by the strong, supportive and reliable arms of the NHS. That sounds very cheesy but it's absolutely true.

At no point have I had to worry about whether or not I can afford treatment.

At no point have I had to make decisions about what treatment to have based on cost.

At no point have I have to go out and find medical professionals myself that will give me the treatment I need, when I need it.

At no point have I had to fill out claim forms, sit in queues on telephone lines, or risk delays to my treatment because I am too shocked or too ill to deal with insurance companies.

At no point have I had to question the motivations of the organisation that is responsible for treating my cancer, or the basis on which decisions about what treatment I am being offered have been made.

At no point during my cancer treatment have I been made to feel like a "customer".

When I found out about Conservative plans to sell off £1.2 billion of NHS cancer and end of life care in Staffordshire I was horrified. If it goes ahead, this will be the  largest private contract in NHS history. I don't live in Staffordshire, but I know that if it happens in Staffordshire, I should expect the same in Leicester soon.

It terrifies me that the care of people who have cancer is being sold to companies whose ultimate aim is to make a profit for their owners.

It saddens me that patients will become "customers" - with associated costs and profits attached to them instead of first and foremost being recognised and treated as individuals, as fellow human beings.

It disgusts me that instead of being invested into a public service, our National Insurance contributions are being given to the private sector on such a large scale, and without any real public consultation. On Saturday even Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, claimed that he knew nothing about the sale of NHS cancer care in Staffordshire. I find that difficult to believe, but if he is telling the truth that is incredibly worrying.

I would like to end here by encouraging everyone to not only have the NHS in mind when you vote in the election on Thursday, but also over the next 4 days to be talking to as many people as you can about the NHS and the piece by piece privatisation of it under the Coalition government over the last few years. I really think this election could be our last chance to save the NHS. I hope we can do it.

And thank you for taking the time to listen to me. 
The marchers start arriving! 

The wonderful Harry Smith, telling the crowd what life is really like without a National Health Service.
Me! Telling everyone how wonderful the NHS has been in the treatment of my cancer. Yes, in the background, that is Tristram Hunt listening carefully and applauding!
Me with the other event speakers. My friends are making fun of me for being a poser so I just want to say, for the record, we were all instructed to stand in the exact way I was stood. If I knew that in reality we could all freestyle with our poses, I'd have bear hugged Harry. Or Tristram. ;-)

Got my photo with the 38 degrees NHS ambulance!

And I just want to end with this....

If there is any part of you that wonders if the privatisation of the NHS might improve it... consider this. The first privately run NHS hospital, Hitchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire, has been condemned as "inadequate."

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