Cancer Column: Proton-Beam Potential

Cycle two of cancer treatment is complete and, yes, I resemble what can only be described as chemosaurus-rex.

Off the back of a pretty stressful first cycle, with neutropenia hospitalising me, two broken picc lines (that 42cm tube inserted from my arm to chest I keep moaning about), my hair falling out faster than expected and getting used to some pretty rubbish side effects, it’s been somewhat good to be back on the Young Patient’s Unit in Birmingham. On the Friday just gone, I had a metal disk attached to a tube similar to that of a picc line surgically shoved into my chest to administer my chemo in a more-invasive & less-risky (in terms of infection) way for the rest of the year. It’s like a less glamorous version of Iron Man. And, if anyone ever asks you, needles in your neck are never fun, nor is looking like you have a giant third nipple cowering away under your skin.

Me moaning on about how cancer treatment and having your normal life as you know it plucked away from you is injuriously frustrating and painful doesn’t particularly make fun reading (despite it’s truth), so I thought sharing some potential news would suffice.

Half way through my cycle on Wednesday, as my head Oncologist Consultant made his rounds with a gaggle of junior doctors, the news was broke to me that (because of my age, diagnosis and response to treatment so far) I’m eligible to be put forward to access Proton beam therapy; a form of radiotherapy not accessible to cancer patients in the UK until 2018/19.

The treatment prevents damage to proximal major organs during radiotherapy, which in my case, means my liver and my lungs and has been offered to under 500 people since 2009. The treatment uses streams of proton particles, which can be more tightly focused on tumours compared to x-rays used in conventional radiotherapy. Because the treatment is not yet available in the UK, it would mean that I’d be jetted out to America (either Florida or Oklahoma) for a couple of months before my big surgery. It’s far from a holiday, but the treatment will lower risks of long term side effects aka organ damage and this cancer coming back.

Proton therapy has seemingly made press time and time again in recent months. Late 2014 saw the particular case of 5-year-old Ashya King making headlines last year after his parents took him from hospital despite doctor’s advice and travelled to Prague for Proton beam therapy. As the government inject £250m into creating two centres of treatment in the UK, with the Department of Health estimating that around 1500 UK patients will receive Proton beam therapy each year, I am in an overwhelming position of not only awe at what our country provides to sick young adults, but hope.

A part of me is filled with guilt and selfishness for being able to access such an expensive and desired treatment when so many other people with similar cancers go without. A part of my feels dreadful and completely unworthy that this could cost the NHS thousands upon thousands of pounds, but life has seemingly thrown me a safety ring and one I’m pretty damn humbled for. The process to be granted access to the therapy is lengthy, uncertain and one I’m only at the beginning of, but my eligibility reiterates that I have a fighting chance of beating this disease. Life isn’t all that bad, I suppose.

Again, counting blessings, not flaws.

(And if you weren’t aware, I’m far from a radiographer, so here’s a swanky Health Education England video)

You can follow my cancer blogging here.

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Words // Dean Eastmond @deanvictorr