In early 2019, our Head of Learning – Lawrence White was enjoying life to the full.  As a 52-year-old he enjoyed keeping fit, was still an active if somewhat slower rugby player and he played cricket for his local team in the summer months.  He had just taken up road cycling to prepare for his retirement from rugby: you can’t play forever!

His role saw him travelling the world designing and delivering Learning & Development interventions in many different locations. Indeed, 2019 was a particularly heavy year for overseas travel for Lawrence, with Paris, Tangiers, Singapore, Hong Kong & Australia in the calendar.

On June the 9th at 1.00am, he suffered a seizure in his sleep.  This came as a shock to him and his family as he had previously been in good health.  The paramedics arrived and he was whisked off to hospital.  Initial investigations proved inconclusive; this was his first ever seizure.

Over the next month or so various tests were performed which included an MRI scan on his brain.  The first indication that something was not quite right was during the MRI scan.  Unexpectedly, the radiographer asked if he could inject a contrast dye to make the images clearer.  This was worrying but the radiographer said that it would be referred to the clinicians and they would be in touch shortly – it was Sunday after all!

On Tuesday of the following week, Lawrence took a call from a consultant neurologist in York hospital requesting he attend an appointment with him ‘as soon as is convenient’.  During the subsequent conversation, Lawrence was told that he had a ‘shadow’ on the scan and the most likely explanation was that it was a tumour although they couldn’t be sure and further tests were needed which included a trip to the scanner in Hull which had a much higher resolution, and therefore could provide a more accurate with the diagnosis.  Lawrence went for the scan and was immediately assigned to a leading brain surgeon in Hull to be given the devasting news that he had, indeed, got a brain tumour.  Further, he was told that his life expectancy would be around five years if he did nothing but could be extended with surgery.  Equally, the surgery may not work, and his life expectancy could be lees than five years.  As you can imagine, this was dreadful news.  At the consultation in Hull, Lawrence was introduced to a MacMillan nurse.

The MacMillan nurse was not just supportive (but that would have been enough), she was very knowledgeable too.  She worked in harmony with the clinicians at every stage of the treatment.  It was good to have a direct line not just to the nurse, but the entire team.  When they say “you’ll have a direct line to an expert team” it’s not just a marketing thing – it really is just that.  They deal with all aspects of the treatment and have access to experts when needed.

Back to Lawrence’s journey.  It was decided that surgery would be the best option.  The MacMillan nurse provided information that helped Lawrence with his decision.  The date was set for the surgery – Dec 3rd, 2019.  The MacMillan nurse was available to answer any questions that Lawrence had, and on the rare occasions she didn’t have an answer, she knew exactly where to go to get the answers and this was usually delivered within 24 hours by the nurse or, on occasion, by one of the clinical team.

The day of the operation arrived.  Lawrence admits to it being a bit of a blur but can recall feeling not worthy of all the attention.  The clinical team were excellent and explained everything in detail.  The anaesthetist’s visit was brief and effective.  The next thing Lawrence could recall was waking up in the recovery room and dipping a ham sandwich into a strawberry yoghurt!  Surrounded by his loved ones he couldn’t find the words to describe how he felt.  This wasn’t through any lack of vocabulary; it was because the surgery had adversely affected the speech functions in his brain.

During the next week, Lawrence had many visitors most of whom appeared to be very concerned with his speech.  The MacMillan nurse visited him almost every day on the ward and reassured him that the speech would come back but couldn’t guarantee that it would come back fully.  This combination of reassurance tempered with honesty was refreshing and appropriate, allowing him to defer making any career decisions and concentrate on the ‘here and now’.

Lawrence started intensive radiotherapy about 3 weeks after the surgery: mid-January 2021.  At the time, Covid was just emerging in the Far East and Lawrence started attending radiotherapy session every weekday for six weeks.  During this time, he would attend the Thursday clinics with the assigned oncologist, often with a MacMillan nurse on hand too.  All went well, however by the end of the six weeks it was becoming clear that Covid 19 was going to have a big impact on the subsequent, 12-month chemotherapy plan.  Again, the MacMillan team was on hand to provide vital information on the emerging threat, its potential impact and confirm the advice from the oncologist to delay the start of the chemotherapy.

When it became apparent that the Covid 19 situation wasn’t going to improve (in fact it was rapidly developing into the global pandemic that we now know it to be) decisions about the chemotherapy had to be made.  Once again, the MacMillan team were on hand to help Lawrence make informed choices.  Chemotherapy began at the end of May 2021 until April this year.  An MRI scan on 14th Feb 2021 confirmed that there had been no significant change.  During the chemotherapy the MacMillan team was always there but, in Lawrence’s case, were rarely needed.  He knows that this is not commonplace and he got to know some other cancer patients who were heavily dependant on the support, advice and guidance that the MacMillan team in Hull had to offer.  This advice and guidance are not just medical either, it could be help with financial concerns, how the cancer and treatment could affect personal and family relationships, emotional support and even support with subsequent career decisions.

Lawrence’s experience with the MacMillan team in Hull was wholly positive and completely unexpected.  With so many different types of cancer, and so many individuals affected by them, it’s amazing that the MacMillan team is able to adapt to individual circumstances.  For these reasons, we have chosen MacMillan to be our first Charity of The Moment.

As many of you know, Lawrence has now made a great recovery.  He’ll never be cancer free but is undertaking the Loch Ness Etape, an organised cycle ride around Loch Ness on 24th April 2022.  You’re welcome to contribute via Lawrence’s ‘Just Giving’ page should you so wish.  You find it here.

We’ll all be actively fund raising during the coming months as well as contributing to events that highlight the great work that MacMillan continue to do to support cancer patients nationwide.

Kind regards – The Phoenix Team.