Giving survivors green light for life

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A SOUTH Tyneside specialist nurse has given a group of cancer survivors the green light to get on with their future.

In some parts of the country, survivors of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma often need hospital follow-ups for the rest of their lives, despite the prognosis being good.

But at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, patients who have Diffuse Large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), are being discharged after two years which, for many of them, lifts the psychological burden of having cancer.

The man behind the new practice is haematology clinical nurse specialist John Pattison, from South Shields, who knows exactly what it is like to be a cancer survivor.

For not only was he diagnosed with lymphoma when he was 18, but his daughter, Donna, 29, was found to have a rare leukaemia when she was four.

In each case, they were not expected to survive, but they came through after extensive treatment.

Mr Pattison said the practice nationally of not discharging DLBCL patients whose disease is considered cured for at least five years had become accepted over many years, but there was no concrete research to support monitoring after two years.

He said: “Evidence suggests that the risk of relapse is greatest in the first two years after completion of treatment, and there is no hard evidence that continuing, long-term follow-up will detect relapse.

“Discharging these patients after two years means they don’t have to make repeated visits to hospital which, as well as being potentially inconvenient, can be a recurring reminder of their cancer diagnosis. It also frees up clinical time for those whose needs are greatest.”

In a survey of his DLBCL patients with good prognosis, Mr Pattison said the overwhelming majority were in favour of discharge after two years, with many saying the decision gave them back a sense of purpose.

Mr Pattison added: “The psychological burden of living and surviving cancer should not be underestimated.

“For me, it wasn’t just the physical destruction caused by a malignancy that I objected to, it was the fact that I felt it was interfering with every element of my existence.

“Some people simply want to get on with the rest of their lives following successful treatment for lymphoma.”