More Scots are surviving cancer than ever before
A Scottish couple have shared their own cancer stories in a bid to encourage fellow Scots to act early.
My Survivor is a Scottish Government and NHS Scotland campaign which aims to change the way cancer is viewed.
Sadly, the fear of a potential cancer diagnosis continues to stop people acting on their concerns.
But the campaign ably illustrates that more people are surviving cancer than ever before, with early diagnosis playing a big part.
That’s certainly the case for Jean Wilson (64), from Fife, who is now happily in remission from the disease.
She was able to enjoy Christmas and New Year with her husband Arnott (64), their three daughters Fiona (39), Alison (36) and Gail (32) and their granddaughter and grandson – thanks to early diagnosis.
Jean was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in January 2015 after going to the doctor about a bruise on her arm.
Jean said: “At the time my granddaughter was just one year old, so I assumed the bruise had come from playing with her.
“I never thought much of it but when it wasn’t going away by itself after a couple of months my daughter encouraged me to go to the doctors to get it checked out.
“In early January 2015 I went to see my GP. She sent me for an appointment with a vascular consultant.
“Two days later I had an ultrasound on my neck. I was told there was a blockage in my neck and the likely cause was a tumour.
“It was a total bombshell. It hadn’t entered my head the bruise could be the sign of something more serious.
“Arnott and I were meant to be going away on a six-week holiday to New Zealand in the March to celebrate his retirement but my GP advised me to cancel the holiday immediately.
“I had a CT scan and this was followed with a biopsy which confirmed I had non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I hadn’t ever heard of it before but they explained it was a type of blood cancer which was treatable.
“I was in complete shock. I had no other symptoms apart from that one bruise. It wasn’t like I had any lumps or any of the classic symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma like weight loss or tiredness. I felt absolutely fine.”
Jean underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and coped well, although losing her hair after the first treatment was hard.
She said: “I know chemo can make some people extremely unwell but I actually didn’t feel too bad.
“The worst part was losing my hair after my first treatment. It was really difficult but I just tried to focus on getting better.”
And that’s exactly what she did, with the chemo being followed up every two months with a maintenance drug intravenously for a further two years.
Jean is now in remission but sees her consultant every six months for check-ups.
She said: “I never take anything for granted now.
“My family kept me going throughout my treatment and I’m so grateful that I’m here to watch our grandchildren grow up.”
While Jean is now retired she’s certainly not taking things easy. She has completed the 5K Race for Life four times and has become an ambassador for Lymphoma Action.
She added: “I think it’s so important for anyone who’s experiencing any symptoms or changes in their health to go to their GP and get it checked out.
“I’m glad I acted when I did – who knows what my outcome would have been otherwise.”
Arnott, who has been married to Jean for 42 years, said her optimistic outlook helped the family cope.
But he admitted it was tough to begin with.
He said: “When Jean was diagnosed it was a complete shock. It felt like we were in a parallel universe. We’d always gone through life feeling we were immortal.
“But Jean’s a very determined woman. Once she decides to do something, she’ll make sure it’s done and that’s how she approached her treatment.
“She wasn’t too bad during the chemotherapy. She was tired quite a lot but that’s to be expected.
“The thing that worried me most was her getting any infections. Your immune system is compromised during and after chemo, so the slightest thing could affect her really seriously.
“I’m the worrier of the two of us, whereas Jean just got on with it. She carried on living life to the full as much as she possibly could.”
But her diagnosis had an impact on the wider family.
Arnott explained: “We’re both the youngest of three so we’ve got a large extended family and Jean’s an essential part of that. She’s always at the centre of everything.
“We’d be absolutely lost without her. It doesn’t bear thinking about what could have happened if she’d had a different outcome.
“It was incomprehensible to me. The family sees her as a guiding light so we couldn’t even contemplate her not being here.
“But cancer didn’t stand a chance against Jean!”
The family celebrated her recovery at the couple’s ruby wedding anniversary on August 28, 2016.
Arnott added: “One of our daughters created a fantastic video montage for us, with family and friends wishing us well. It was brilliant.
“It was great to see everyone and tell them how much they meant to us. It was a really emotional day.
“We’ve always celebrated events but now we want to celebrate every day together, even the small things like going for walks together.”
Jean and Arnott have not yet made it to New Zealand but they have made another dream a reality – moving from Dunfermline to Lower Largo, where Arnott grew up.
Don’t delay: go to your doctor today
The My Survivor campaign aims to reduce people’s fear around attending screening when invited or seeing a GP with any persistent or unusual changes to their health.
It reinforces the role acting early plays in improving chances of survival – whether it is posting a completed bowel screening test, attending a mammogram or having a prostate examination.
Dr Hugh Brown, who has been a family GP in Scotland for more than 25 years, has witnessed first-hand how early diagnosis and improved treatments have had a major impact on survival rates.
And he is keen for readers to contact their GPs if they have any concerns.
Dr Brown said: “People are often frightened and that fear stops them going to their GP.
“But the sooner they act, the better. Very often, people present with symptoms and we can put their minds at ease.
“However, if it is something more sinister, the earlier they act, the sooner we can start dealing with the problem.
“If you’re coughing for several weeks and it’s not your normal cough, we want to see you.
“Likewise, if you are being sick, having abdominal pain or have recurring bleeding from your back passage, it’s better to get it checked out.
“It’s all about spotting things that do not follow your normal health pattern.
“And if you are at all concerned, it’s better to visit your GP.”
Screening programmes and improved treatments mean more people are living after a cancer diagnosis than ever before. However, early diagnosis plays a key role in survival rates too.
Dr Brown said: “The earlier we can detect cancer, the better chance there is of treating it.
“More people are surviving cancer than ever before and that’s largely thanks to earlier detection, in addition to better treatments.
“Screening has played a big part in that, with breast and bowel cancer screening programmes helping in the fight against the disease.
“But education also has a role to play. Patients are now far more aware of the signs and symptoms to look out for.
“We can’t give a chest x-ray to every patient who presents over the winter months. “But if we know that patient is experiencing symptoms that are outwith their normal health patterns, we can act to rule out anything sinister.
“The earlier cancer is detected the better so it makes sense to discuss any health changes you are worried about with your GP as soon as possible.”