19 July 2017

Sheffield health professional spearheading charity push for research into cancer ‘late effects’

A health professional who saved his brother’s life by donating bone marrow 25 years ago, is raising money for Sheffield Hospitals Charity to fund further research into the long term effects of cancer treatment in the decades and years after treatment.

Chris Bowes, aged 39, says that although cancer survival rates are increasing, less is known about the long term impact cancer treatments may have on cancer survivors.

Chris’ brother Simon was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was 17, and although he made a full recovery from the cancer, he now suffers with many side effects relating to the treatments which saved his life.

Chris, who works as a Chief Audiologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Simon was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1992, following symptoms of extreme lethargy, and a swollen neck and glands. Some days he was so tired that he couldn’t get out of bed.

“His treatment involved high doses of chemotherapy, total body irradiation and a bone marrow transplant which put him in remission, however he was often unwell during this time.

“Doctors didn’t know if his body would tolerate a bone marrow transplant, but it was agreed, and I was a donor match. I was only 15 at the time, but it wasn’t a choice, if he hadn’t have had it, he would have died. However Simon survived the cancer and was able to live his life.

“Simon lived a normal life for many years; he went to college, got married and was able to have a baby. However over time, he gradually developed more and more problems which are as a result of the late effects of his treatment.

“Now, twenty years on, he suffers with permanent lung damage, an impaired heart valve, diabetes requiring insulin, testosterone treatment and medication for his thyroid. He also has an enlarged liver, cataract damage, poor kidney function, muscle weakness, extreme fatigue and the mental health issues coping with all these issues bring day by day.

“The after effects of cancer treatment can happen months or years after treatment and is becoming increasingly recognised. For the first 15 years after his treatment, Simon worked at a building society as a senior IT Analyst. Then he started with tiredness and he felt like he was at square one again. Now he can’t work, which he hates. The milestones of being cancer free go by, but for Simon the after effects have been relentless.

“I don’t want this to come across as negative; my brother is still alive which we are so grateful for. However more needs to be researched into the long term side effects of cancer treatments and the support of those affected, which is why I’m raising funds.

“Seeing the challenges my brother faces every day, has inspired me to test myself. I will be cycling 150 miles, off road, with my brother in-law Daniel Pearce, friend Paul Exton and my father in-law, Roy Pearce.

“Many times, over the years I have observed Simon’s health struggles and have not been able to do anything. Hopefully by doing the coast to coast, raising both awareness and money could help him and many others in the future and ultimately will improve and prolong people’s lives after cancer.”

Recently, Simon has received specialist care from Professor Diana Greenfield and Professor John Snowden and the Late Effect team at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital’s Haematology Department, who are actively researching into the long term consequences of cancer treatments experienced by people like Simon.

For many cancers, late physical and mental consequences - health problems that occur months or years after a disease has been diagnosed, or treatment has ended - are increasingly recognised.

With the improved outcomes of many cancers, increased attention is starting to be recognised for late disease and treatment effects and their impact on a patient’s life, like Simon’s physically, mentally and socially.

Simon said: “Before I was under the care of the Late Effects team I had many symptoms and nobody seemed to understand what was happening. It was a very dark time for me, not having the support I required.

“Eventually I contacted the team and they took me under their wing. The work they do has been fantastic, they provide the support and aftercare and more importantly understand the issues I am confronted with on a day to day basis. They also provided all the relevant screening tests, resulting in referrals to the relevant clinics.

“Having late effects has been frustrating and life changing which has resulted in a massive impact on my mental health. I have had to give up work, a job I loved, but with the help of the late effects team support has been there for me to adjust and revaluate my future and find the "new” me.

“They are not just doctors and nurses, they are a team that really care, understand and listen.”

Sheffield Hospitals Charity has recently funded the role of an additional late effects nurse at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital’s team, who will work with and care for patients to improve their quality of life.

The role includes running a late effects clinic, where patient concerns alongside medical issues are identified, screened, and assessed, and then referred to relevant specialists.

The senior nurse will also provide support and help with mood and anxiety management, as well as holistic care.

To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chris-bowes. Alternatively contact Sheffield Hospitals Charity on 0114 226 7351 or by emailing, charity@shct.nhs.uk.

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