Clatterbridge Cancer Charity

Support through treatment is invaluable

Chris Britton, 36 from Bebington, Wirral, tells us how the Clatterbridge Cancer Charity helped him through his treatment for bone cancer

People think the hardest part of cancer is the physical side; the gruelling treatment and surgeries required to help you conquer this dreadful disease. But for me, I found the emotional trauma unexpectedly tough.

Although I wasn’t diagnosed until 2013, my problems started six years earlier when I was hurt during a game of football – I took a kick to my arm where a painful lump formed. I had an X-ray but nothing obvious could be found and I was told it was probably a haematoma.

In 2013, our son, Charlie, was born and my wife Kath and I were over the moon to have a baby brother for our daughter, Chloë, then three. Life was good and I’d started a new job as an area sales manager for a packaging company. When Charlie was two months old, when it was my turn to feed him, because I’m right-handed, I was holding him in my left arm and it was becoming very painful in the wrist area. My original lump had become big and tender so I went back to the GP, who sent me for an X-ray. The radiographer mentioned the old wound and told me there were clear signs of the bone thickening. I was referred to the Royal Liverpool University Hospital for further investigations. The specialist thought it could have been a benign tumour or cyst so I had a CT scan and a biopsy. A few weeks later I was told I had bone cancer and was referred to the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre for a treatment plan. The doctor told me I had a 70 per cent chance of survival.

Thankfully, further tests revealed the disease was contained in my arm and it had a name – an epithelioid sarcoma. This type of soft tissue sarcoma affects one in two million people and is usually found in people up to the age of 22 or in people over 50 – rarely in my age group.

I was to start radiotherapy and then they would try to “excise the tumour” by removing three inches of bone from either side of my radius. I’d assumed having radiotherapy was a lesser evil than chemo and planned to carry on working throughout my treatment, but after a few weeks I collapsed from exhaustion, clearly too tired to work. I had to go on sick leave and would just sleep all day after my treatments. When I returned to work, my colleagues assumed I was back to normal and could continue as before but I couldn’t
shake how fatigued I felt. At the same time, I was worried about providing for my family and was trying to put the diagnosis and treatment behind me. I didn’t take time to process what I’d been through. When it comes to cancer, people think you are going to die or survive and when you do survive you should be able to carry on as before. But that’s just not how it works.

Four months later I had the tumour removed but because I’d had radiotherapy, they were unable to replace the bone. They told me about a pioneering new surgery called a one-bone forearm, where they removed one bone in such a way so the other would be strong enough to hold my wrist in place. Sadly this was unsuccessful so I had to have another procedure to secure my wrist with two pins, then a plaster cast was put on my arm. Once again I had to take time off work, which made me extremely anxious about providing for my family. At the same time my wife returned to work as a teacher, so I was often alone at home. I began to see a counsellor, who said I had developed post-traumatic stress disorder. It was at this point I decided to leave my job. I’d been making mistakes and couldn’t concentrate for long, nor did I feel my colleagues were very understanding. I felt very alone and fell into a deep depression, staying in bed much of the time.

I’m not sure what would have become of me had a friend I’d met at a Clatterbridge Cancer Care fundraiser not called one day to tell me about an event.

Hearing how down I was, she suggested I look into the HOPE course – Helping to Overcome Problems Effectively. She explained it was run by those affected by cancer, and would help me rediscover my strengths and manage the impact of my condition. It was just what I needed. There were seven women and me in my group. I was reluctant at first but I needn’t have worried, we had all been through similar experiences.

The weekly group sessions were held in a local pub and we were encouraged to talk frankly about our fears and anxieties, coping with the family and survivor guilt. I began to no longer feel so isolated or alone. Together we learnt ways to deal with anger, depression and uncertainty and I came to look upon the others as sisters and called them “The Angels”. Sadly, since we started meeting, two of our group, Barb and Pam, have passed away from secondary cancers, which has been heart breaking.

Sharing my experience with others marked a turning point for me. I found a new job and, despite having to undergo more surgeries on my wrist, I remained mostly upbeat. I had my final operation last May and I’m feeling well. Kath and I continue to raise funds for the Clatterbridge Cancer Charity – without them I might not be here to appreciate each new day as it comes.

THE FACTS – Clatterbridge Cancer Charity

  • The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is a UK leader in cancer care, treating approximately 30,000 patients every year and providing 221,000 episodes of the finest-quality cancer care.
  • It offers pioneering chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as well as proton therapy treatments via the National Centre for Eye Proton Therapy, which is the only proton therapy facility of its kind in the UK.
  • There are ten operating sites across Cheshire and Merseyside, which provide a population of 2.3 million people as well as national and international patients with crucial cancer care.
  • The charity is a centre of excellence for groundbreaking cancer research and is renowned for making breakthroughs, leading to refined and bespoke treatments for patients.
  • Visit clatterbridgecc.nhs.uk.

BIG GIVE UPDATE

The money raised will go towards the development of a Teenage and Young Adult Unit at the new comprehensive specialist cancer hospital being built in the centre of Liverpool.

As told to Sally Evans
Photos Collin McPherson

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