Nurse Barbara Green, from Padiham in Lancashire, had already had breast cancer in 2007 and a double mastectomy in 2012, when in 2016 she began having back pain after yoga classes. Barbara and her GP put it down to sciatica, so she was shocked when an oncologist at Burnley General told her that scans revealed a mass on her spine that might be a rare chordoma (a rare type of cancer that occurs in the bones of the skull base and spine) – her third cancer in 10 years.
“To be told I had cancer for the third time was absolutely the worst thing,” says Barbara.
“The first two occasions had been bad but I had managed to remain positive, but the third time I was in total despair. I just wanted to crawl in a corner and disappear.”
As a nurse, she knew surgery carried the risk of leaving her doubly incontinent and in a wheelchair. Then specialists at Royal Preston Hospital referred her to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham, where she was first told about proton beam therapy (PBT) in the USA. Barbara was then referred to The Christie, where her consultant Dr Catherine Coyle, informed her that she fulfilled the criteria for PBT treatment at Jacksonville in Florida, and that it would be paid for by the NHS.
Barbara and her husband Kevin knew this offered her the best chance of living a normal life, so they seized the opportunity. Whilst in Florida she was treated daily with PBT for nine weeks for her rare cancer.
Chance of normal life
Although Kevin was granted leave from the engineering company where he worked to accompany her to America, he worried throughout the trip about taking so much time off, and they both worried about their cat, who had to be put in a cattery for three months.
“I can’t praise the care we had in the USA enough.” she says. “But going to the USA is just such a long way for such a long time. Having to travel there just added to the stress. If I’d been able to have the PBT in Manchester it would have been so much easier. I’m so glad that people will soon be able to have what I had without having to travel abroad.”
Barbara was back in uniform at work in the outpatients’ department at Burnley General Hospital, just three months after her return from the USA having completed her PBT treatment.
Consultant Dr Catherine Coyle said: “Barbara’s case was a rare and complex one requiring the cooperation of clinicians from more than one hospital trust. Not everyone with a sarcoma can be helped by proton beam therapy, but we are delighted that Barbara was suitable to receive it, given how close it was to her bladder, bowel and delicate nerve systems. PBT treatment has given her a very good chance of tumour control without the side effects from surgery.”