A former cancer patient from Macclesfield, Cheshire has been chosen to help shape the future of patient care at the new high energy proton beam therapy (PBT) centre, at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

The centre, due to open next year, will be the first of only two centres to open in the UK. The other will be at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

PBT is a specialist form of radiotherapy that targets certain cancers very precisely, increasing success rates and reducing side-effects. It targets tumours with less damage to surrounding healthy tissue and can be particularly effective for treating cancers in areas where damage could cause serious complications such as the optic nerve, the spine or the brain.

Sophie Vohra, 25, who is now studying for a PhD, has joined a panel of former Christie patients, who have received proton beam therapy overseas. The group will share their experiences and ideas to help shape plans for the treatment and care offered at the new centre in Manchester.

Sophie started her treatment at The Christie in April 2015 after being diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer at the bottom of her spine.

She said: “At the age of 23, one of the last things you expect to hear is that you have cancer. I had been suffering increasingly from bad pains and numbness down my right leg since the start of the year, which became so unbearable that I finally decided to visit my GP.

“Following various tests and investigations, I received my diagnosis and was referred to The Christie.”

After 14 cycles of chemotherapy, Sophie’s consultant put her forward for proton beam therapy in America, , as her tumour was inoperable.

“Because of the location of my tumour, having surgery to remove it was high risk. I was very lucky to be put forward for proton beam therapy treatment in America. . This was the best option because it would cause much less damage than standard treatment would to the area surrounding my tumour.”

Sophie travelled to a specialist proton beam therapy centre in Jacksonville, Florida accompanied by her parents.  She had two months of intensive treatment there combining PBT with chemotherapy five days a week.

“I can’t fault my treatment in America and the staff offered us all a lot of support but being so far away from home was isolating. Our support network of friends and wider family were no longer around the corner and that was the hardest thing I think, for us all.

“Having all of this available to me has meant I have received all the best opportunities to try and beat this horrible disease. I couldn’t be more grateful to The Christie for helping make it possible. I am now disease free and able to get on with my life and complete my PHD.

“No one should ever have to go through a life-threatening illness like cancer, but places like The Christie and the facilities they have for young patients means that we can not only get through our treatment, but can also continue to have as fulfilling and happy a time as we can.

“I’m thrilled that I can use my experience of cancer and my treatment in America to help future patients at the new PBT centre at The Christie. I know it will be life-changing for future patients like me.”

The Christie proton beam therapy centre is expected to open in Autumn 2018 and will treat up to 750 patients per year at full capacity.

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust has been ranked ‘Outstanding’ by the health regulator the Care Quality Commission which referred to it as ‘exceptional’ and ‘a leader in its field’. It commended the Trust not only for its effectiveness and care, but highlighted its work in shaping the future of cancer care and noted the reach and influence of its clinical research projects.