Few of us will ever experience the responsibility of deciding how to save a child’s life but this is the daily reality of childhood cancer specialists in Newcastle who shoulder the hopes and fears of parents from across the North East and Cumbria.
Clinicians from Newcastle Hospitals’ Great North Children’s Hospital (GNCH) and researchers from Newcastle University’s Northern Institute for Cancer Research (NICR) work hand-in-hand to translate their understanding of childhood cancer into new ways to save young lives and improve the quality of life for survivors.
The teams are hard at work developing more efficient and less toxic therapies with fewer side effects and it is this exciting progress that inspired the launch of the Future Fund campaign to create a specialist children’s cancer research facility, the Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer. It is a plan that gets the approval of Jenny Palmer, Matron for Children and Young People’s Cancer and Bone Marrow Transplant Services at GNCH – one of the UK’s leading centres for childhood cancers and a partner in the Future Fund along with Newcastle University and the North of England Children’s Cancer Research charity.
Cutting-edge cancer care
Jenny, who has responsibility for developing children’s cancer services and ensuring more than 100 nursing and specialist staff continue to perform at the cutting edge of medical advancements, is keen to build on the outstanding facilities, results and reputation Newcastle has achieved in treating the disease in the past 30 years. By focusing the work of existing research teams into one state-of-the-art facility, drug development, translational research and early phase clinical trials can be advanced and accelerated.
Jenny said: “Survival rates have dramatically improved in the past 30 years and the investment in specialist facilities and services offered to young people and their families has mirrored that improvement. The facilities here at the hospital are now absolutely amazing and are all aimed at making the experience of cancer treatment as comfortable as possible for the children and their parents. Our ultimate aim is for treatment times to be shorter, more effective and with fewer side effects and the Future Fund will play a pivotal role in achieving that goal.
“Newcastle has a strong track record in clinical trials and virtually every one of our children is already helping with work on the future of cancer treatments as they are involved with a research study with our research nurses and consultants. The Future Fund will build on that momentum.”
Jenny was appointed to her role as Matron in 2011. She says she has seen significant advances in children’s cancer services even in this relatively short period of time on the three wards at the GNCH that are dedicated to treating the disease, which is diagnosed in 120 children each year in the North of England. One of the main improvements, she says, has been the introduction of specialist nurses who are expert in specific areas such as leukaemia, stem cell harvest and bone marrow transplant, neuro-oncology, outreach, palliative and end of life care, and issues relating to teenage patients.
She said: “Some of the specialist nursing services are relatively new and are a wonderful addition to the team as they can offer our families expert advice and effective support on very specific areas. They get involved in so many aspects of life outside of the hospital, for example providing liaison with school, social workers and psychologists. Crucially, we now have a nurse that specialises in providing long-term follow-up services for children and young people who continue to be supported five years out of treatment. She helps with side effects of treatment such as fertility and endocrine issues and helps us to understand which treatments can lead to long-term problems.
“These aren’t just patients to us, they are young people trying to overcome all of the usual challenges associated with growing up but with the added complication of having a cancer diagnosis and being on a ward. We do everything we can to help make the experience as easy and as normal and homely as it can be.”
Care is given to patients ageing from newborn to 19 years of age, with a dedicated Teenage Cancer Unit providing specific services for older children. The unit includes a ‘penthouse’ facility where teenagers can socialise and learn new skills, complete with musical instruments, pool table, juke box and gaming area. The multi-disciplinary team of children’s cancer experts specialise in everything from neurosciences and radiotherapy to pathology and surgery, with nine consultants dedicated to the department.
‘Whole family’ care
Jenny added: “The philosophy of all of the wards is to care for the whole family – not just the patient. Children and young people are actually incredibly resilient and tend to cope very differently to their parents so we ensure we take care of the whole family unit and develop very long-term and involved relationships.It obviously is an emotionally challenging job for our nurses but the rewards are phenomenal. Our staff feel they get to know the families they work with so well as they progress through our programme of care. It is unlike most other conditions we treat in the hospital as it requires such frequent follow-up even after treatment has finished so we stay in touch with our families long after they have left the ward.
“The most delightful thing for our staff is seeing their patients come to the end of their treatment and then go on to grow back into their normal lives, getting back into school, growing back their hair and picking back up with their friends. Advancement in cancer research and improved, more targeted treatments will mean a happy ending for even more of our patients.”
How to donate
- Via JustGiving
- Call 0191 208 7250
- Text NCFF01 and the amount of your donation to 70070.
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