An evening at Southampton General Hospital focussing on ovarian cancer
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As a member of University Hospital of Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, I am invited periodically to members' events. Anyone over the age of 16 living in England or Wales can become a member of the Trust, although frequently it appeals to members of the public with a particular interest in the way in which Southampton hospital services are run.
I particularly look forward to the invites to their "Medicine for Members" evenings. These are informative talks about the work of the Trust, often focussing on a particular area of medicine. On Thursday 9th March 2017, the Trust presented such an evening with the focus on ovarian cancer.
March 2017 is ovarian cancer awareness month. Ovarian cancer was previously thought of as the silent killer – a type of cancer that showed no symptoms until it was too late to be able to provide effective treatment. However, medicine, understanding of the disease and information resources have moved on greatly in recent decades and the chances of surviving ovarian cancer for at least 5 years are now much better than they were previously. As with almost all cancers though, the key to long term survival is early detection and treatment.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer are frequent (defined by Target Ovarian Cancer as happening more than 12 times a month) and include:
- Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating
- Difficulty eating/feeling full
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Needing to pass urine more urgently or more often
They may also include unexpected weight loss, change in bowel habit and extreme fatigue.
Evidently, ovarian cancer is a cancer affecting women. The trouble with these symptoms is that they are generally not well known and women can often attribute them to something far less sinister (as indeed they very often are), such as' time of the month', diet, or the pressures of modern day life, and all too frequently fail to make the all-important appointment with a medical professional because the symptoms don't seem too intrusive, and many women are just 'too busy'.
Events such as the Medicine for Members evening are important for highlighting these symptoms to the wider community.
The first speaker was Simon Crawford, Consultant Gynaecological Surgeon at the Trust. He gave us a quick revision lesson on anatomy and then described the nature and potential progression of the disease and the options for treatment – essentially surgery and/or chemotherapy.
Mr Crawford was followed by a very enlightening talk from Andrea Lodge, the Centre Manager at the Macmillan Information and Support Centre, based at Southampton General Hospital. I live locally to the hospital and have personally known a number of people affected by cancer, but I was not aware of the vast array of support services that can be offered to both patients and their carers by the Macmillan service, to include complementary therapies, benefits and financial advice and "Look good, feel better" workshops.
The final speaker of the evening was Alison Farmer, a psycho-oncology clinical nurse specialist at the Trust who was able to provide a very personal and positive perspective on living with and triumphing over ovarian cancer. She emphasised the importance of patients looking after their mental health and being able to talk to someone about the whole gamut of emotions that a diagnosis of cancer delivers.
Overall this was a very informative evening. On a personal level I learned about the importance of paying attention to symptoms that might otherwise be dismissed as simply a nuisance, and the wealth of support services that are available to cancer sufferers in the Southampton area. On a professional level, as a clinical negligence lawyer I am extremely aware of the devastating impact that a diagnosis of cancer can have on someone and their family, particularly a late diagnosis, and I feel better equipped to provide helpful information and to signpost them to services that can help them with their immediate health and welfare needs. I look forward to supporting the next event.
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