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'I wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for a quick diagnosis and medication'


Helen Ward feels lucky to be alive but knows others aren’t so fortunate

Helen Ward feels lucky to be alive but knows others aren’t so fortunate

Helen Ward feels lucky to be alive but knows others aren’t so fortunate

Helen Ward from Ballycastle, Co Antrim, was a non-smoker but was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2011.

She was given six months to live, but was prescribed the life extending drug Gefitnib.

However, the 73-year-old said improvements are needed in Northern Ireland to address inequalities patients' experience.

"I was lucky," she said. "My GP was concerned about my cough and immediately sent me for an x-ray.

"It was July and I had a cough that I just couldn't get rid of for four to five weeks. I took all the medication I could from the pharmacist but then I became a little bit breathless and my husband encouraged me to go to the GP.

"I had tests done and found out I had terminal cancer. I was so lucky that my GP acted quickly as I know that isn't the case for some other people I have spoken to. But I was just very shocked as I was then a very active 69-year-old - not overweight and a non-smoker. It was inoperable, but there was a new drug targeted at the particular cancer that I had and there was a possibility it could prolong my life a little bit.

"My oncologist had to get funding for it, which he did amazingly quickly for me. But not everyone gets that - that is the problem. I've known people who were diagnosed and couldn't get the drug, but had they lived in Wales they could have got it. Sadly, they are no longer here.

The waiting times for scan results is also a problem.

"It used to be when you had a CT scan it was 10 days before you got the report. Now it is four weeks. It is totally to do with finance again and with people on trolleys and urgent X-rays needing done, others are put in the background. The people I talk to are experiencing this in Belfast, Antrim and Coleraine. It is nothing to do with the people doing the scans. If you are waiting for the results of a cancer X-ray four weeks is a long, long time. By the time the four-week wait is up, you worry the cancer has gone through you. My doctors have been wonderful and sent me for appointments at the right time, but it takes so long to get results.

"I feel lucky to be alive but I know that other people are not so lucky. Changes need to be made so everyone has the same standard of treatment and a chance of extending their life. Had it not been for a quick diagnosis and the medication, I would not be here."

Belfast Telegraph