Belfast Telegraph

Campaigner Monica McWilliams hails nurses in her breast cancer fight

By Rebecca Black

Former Human Rights Commissioner and peace campaigner Monica McWilliams has revealed she is battling breast cancer.

In a touching narrative written exclusively for today's Belfast Telegraph, the 59-year-old revealed the trauma of her diagnosis earlier this year.

As Breast Cancer Awareness month comes to a close, Ms McWilliams described the Belfast City Hospital nurses currently caring for her as angels.

The Women's Coalition founder was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the summer and is undergoing chemotherapy – one of 4,700 cancer patients diagnosed this year in Northern Ireland.

Although Ms McWilliams said her sister was recently given the all-clear after battling breast cancer, it did not prepare her, and said every patient is unique and can react differently to treatment.

She paid tribute to all the staff at the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital, saying in all the medics, paramedics, recovery and ward staff, oncology nurses, consultants, radiologists and anesthetists, she has "yet to come across a sour or grumpy person".

But she is most glowing about the nurses and writes that she finds their level of care and love for the job "humbling given how little they are paid for the important work they do. So in this month of October, designated for breast cancer awareness, let's give a special thanks to the guardians of the NHS who despite everything that is being thrown at them, are delivering health care at its very best and saving lives as they do so," she said.

However Ms McWilliams slammed the facilities at the Royal Victoria Hospital's A&E unit, querying if it is fit for patients.

After being brought there one Saturday night with an infection, she waited seven hours to be seen and branded conditions "awful".

She said: "As I was a chemo patient with infection, the paramedics were vigilant in ensuring I was isolated in a separate cubicle before they brought me to casualty. The facilities at the Royal are awful and not what sick people should be exposed to. As usual, it is the staff who are left to pick up the pieces but both they, and we their patients, should not have to put up with the interminable delays and the dire facilities."

Ms McWilliams also questioned whether the facilities at the Royal are up to NHS standards for "emergency cancer patients – or indeed for any patients".

Referring to hair loss during chemo, Ms McWilliams recalls talking to former Secretary of State Mo Mowlam about her wig.

She said: "The wigs these days are far in advance of the one I remember Mo Mowlam wearing which Mo often told me was neither stylish nor comfortable.

"Another plus for the NHS is that the wigs now look good, feel fine and are free."

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