This site is intended for health professionals only

Blog: womb cancer part two

When I was diagnosed with womb cancer and started out on the roller coaster described by Tracie Miles, one of the first things I did was to visit my GP to ask who did what.  It might seem obvious to you who work in the NHS but to us patients, it's far from clear.

He gently explained that the multidisciplinary team at the hospital would be looking after my treatment while the team in general practice would look after my primary care needs. At that first meeting he gave me his email address and prescribed me some sleeping pills as, understandably, I was managing about two hours shut eye a night at that point. I left feeling I had support in place. I cannot tell you how important this is when you've just been diagnosed with cancer and you feel like you're falling though space.

My next contact with the primary care team was after surgery - total hysterectomy, removal of my ovaries and 31 lymph nodes. Discharge after a hysterectomy is quick these days and I left hospital three days post op. My hysterectomy was midline as my cancer was locally advanced (many women with stage 1 cancers are operated on laparoscopically or using robotic surgery). I had a huge dressing and no idea how to manage the wound that ran from just below my belly button to just above my pubic bone.

The practice nursing team stepped into this void. The lovely healthcare assistant changed my dressing for me, telling me it was all looking good, and gave me enough dressings and sterile gloves until such time as I could leave the wound open to the air.

Two days later I was back with a urine infection. The healthcare assistant who'd helped with the dressing happened to be in the corridor, greeted me with a delighted smile and asked why I was in. She took my sample, tested it, confirmed the infection and sneaked into the GP's consulting room between appointments to get a prescription. I was in and out of the practice and taking my first antibiotic within an hour.

It's been like that right down the line as I have gone through 18 weeks of chemotherapy and then seven of radiotherapy. When I needed help with fitness to work notes and other paperwork to do with benefits I was able to email my GP and I always got a response within 24 hours.

When I had minor problems such as a cyst in my eye, I was always able to get a same day appointment and either immediate treatment or reassurance that I was, in fact, fine.

Several things have characterised practice's response over the last year. They've been quick off the mark in responding to my needs and that's helped me to stay as healthy as possible and therefore more able to tolerate the gruelling treatment. I've been reassured and given information to help me manage my own health as much as possible. I have never been made to feel a nuisance.

It's this combination of a quick practical response and a caring human response that is so powerful. It's hard to describe how vulnerable a cancer diagnosis made me feel; or how I lost confidence in my ability to understand what was happening to my body.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy make everything so strange and alien and the lists of side effects handed out at hospital are terrifying. Primary care helped me to feel and to stay safe.

Maybe my local practice is particularly brilliant; I hope not as I would like to think that anyone in my situation would receive the same support. I know some practices call all newly diagnosed cancer patients to offer support. But too many women I know from the Macmillan Womb Cancer Support Group feel abandoned by primary care. In all honesty, could you say I'd have had the same treatment in your practice? And if the answer is no, how could you turn it into yes?