A human touch: Cancer survivor shares the key to great care

A cancer survivor explains what made the biggest difference to him and his family whilst he was being treated for the disease.

A man who has now been cancer-free for almost ten years says that the way healthcare staff treated him and his family during his diagnosis and treatment for cancer made all the difference.

He wants to see the NHS do more to enable staff to provide the care people need – and is calling on others to share their experiences to help make this happen.

“I think it’s important that staff keep on smiling and have a real human approach when it comes to cancer care,” says 71-year-old Dave Simpson from Flitwick in Bedfordshire. He was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 2009 and had several rounds of chemotherapy followed by an operation at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge to treat the disease. He was given the all clear nine months later.

“I had amazing support from my local hospital,” says Dave, “I really can’t complain about the treatment I received – it saved my life! But I am very aware the doctors and nurses are fire-fighting at the moment due to lack of money and outsourcing.

“I know that locally we are desperately short of clinical nurse specialists, so I would like to see more money being spent on recruiting and retaining these nurses.

“My clinical nurse specialist was there for me and my family throughout the whole cancer journey. My wife Deborah knew that the nurse was there for her and this took a great deal of weight off my mind.”

Dave, who is now retired from his job as a trade plate driver delivering new cars across the country, started having problems with swallowing food. After 15 months of intermittent symptoms his wife persuaded him to visit their GP. He had several procedures and biopsies and was then diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.

He says: “I thought I had a hernia like my Dad had, so when they said cancer I was shocked. I said – crikey how long have I got?”

“The most difficult part was telling my wife. We had gone through a rough few years where we had lost her sister, sister in law and her grandmother, all to cancer.

I think it’s important that staff keep on smiling and have a real human approach when it comes to cancer care

“After the initial shock, the staff at the hospital - especially my oncologist - really brought a human touch to the whole experience. We would talk mostly about the cricket and not a lot about the treatment. 

“It’s important that staff keep a real human approach – they are angels, they really are. The chemotherapy nurses deal every day with patients who they know might not make it, but they always have a smile on their face.”

Dave now has a passion for ensuring patients have a say in how their healthcare is run. He is the Chair of Healthwatch Central Bedfordshire, volunteers for the local Macmillan Cancer Group, and is on several patient advisory boards and groups.

He says: “I’m very pleased to say I was a bit suspicious leaving feedback at first, I thought it was simply a ‘tick box’ exercise but it is not. The health services do actually listen – and not just in cancer services but across the whole range of health services.

“Your views do make a difference – it’s important that those in authority know what the public feeling is. I would encourage as many local people as possible to have their say on how the NHS Long Term Plan is implemented in Bedfordshire.”

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