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'You're aware tumour inside you is a ticking time bomb... every extra day really counts'

Patients speak out over delay between diagnosis and treatment

By Lisa Smyth

Published 06/04/2016

Cancer patient Sara Gilmore
Cancer patient Sara Gilmore
Cancer patient Ed Goodall

Cancer survivors have spoken out about the torment of waiting for treatment as part of a campaign to improve services for people with the deadly disease.

Ed Goodall waited 62 days for an urgent appointment with a hospital doctor after visiting his GP with serious concerns about his health.

The 66-year-old, from north Belfast, was subsequently diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Mr Goodall, a semi-retired statistician and author of crime novels, had been experiencing symptoms for several months before he visited his doctor on August 11, 2011.

An urgent referral was made for him to see a cancer specialist, but he did not get an appointment until October and, even then, he was not diagnosed until the end of the month.

"I know I didn't have to wait much longer than the target time, but it was still a long time to hang on, knowing I was ill," he said.

"In the meantime my sister Catherine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer six months after she visited her GP with health problems.

"By the time she was diagnosed it was far too late, and she died soon after. It's been a really stressful time.

"I know a new cancer strategy would have helped my sister.

"It would also help people to be seen quicker, which is so important if you think you have cancer.

"It will be key to providing better and more successful cancer services to people across in Northern Ireland."

Sara Gilmore waited a month between finding out she had breast cancer and starting her treatment.

While this was within the official target limit, she said she was extremely anxious while waiting for her programme to begin.

The 37-year-old mum, from Ballyclare, had just celebrated her son's first birthday when she found out she had cancer.

"Given that Gabriel was now in my life I was so fearful about what it meant for him.

"Once I knew I had cancer the treatment couldn't start quickly enough. I just wanted rid of it.

"I was especially conscious that the cancer could be spreading the longer that it was in me and so it was an anxious time waiting to see the specialist."

Sara had a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy. "It was hard going through treatment while looking after Gabriel, especially as I ended up in hospital twice because of infections," she explained.

"I've tried to stay as positive as possible. It's now a year since my diagnosis and Gabriel has just turned two. I'm so grateful I didn't have to wait any longer for cancer treatment. You're aware the cancer inside you is like a ticking time bomb and so every day counts."

The patients spoke out just a week after figures revealed that hospitals in Northern Ireland have failed to meet target times for the treatment of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer. The target is for 95% of patients to be seen within 62 days, but health trusts managed just 72% during 2015.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have or is not developing an updated cancer strategy to set out how best to provide for the growing number of people being diagnosed with the disease

England published its cancer plan in 2015, and Scotland published one last month.

The Welsh Assembly, meanwhile, is developing a strategy that is expected to be released soon.

Cancer Research UK called on people across Northern Ireland to back its campaign calling for this potentially deadly anomaly to be addressed. Margaret Carr from the charity said: "The consistent failure to meet these targets is a hugely worrying situation that will only get worse unless we have a cancer strategy in place to show how the health service in Northern Ireland plans to care for the growing numbers of people with cancer."

Cancer Research UK is bringing a giant structure of the word 'cancer' to Belfast's Cornmarket this Saturday and is asking people to add their support to the campaign by placing a Northern Ireland map sticker on it.

Margaret added: "In the long-term, a comprehensive cancer plan - with the proper funding - will ensure that Northern Ireland is able to deliver world-class cancer care to patients here."

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