In an uncanny coincidence a patient being treated at South Downs Centre as it celebrates its fifth anniversary, is the husband of one of the first patients to be treated when the centre opened its doors in 2009.
South Downs Centre was the UK’s first independent regional radiotherapy centre to provide advanced and highly targeted forms of radiation therapy not routinely available across the country. It was welcomed by doctors and patients alike, and its success paved the way for Cancer Partners UK to develop a further seven regional centres, with three more being planned for the next 12 months.
As the centre reaches its five-year milestone, 79 year old Roger Churchill from Goring, West Sussex, is just completing his treatment. Roger was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer following tests for an unrelated health matter. He says: “I knew about the South Downs Centre as my wife, Verity, was one of the very first patients to be treated there when it opened.
He adds: “It was a shock to be told I had cancer as I hadn’t experienced any symptoms. My immediate thought was that I wanted to go to the Cancer Partners centre too. We were so satisfied with the way Verity was treated it was an automatic reaction to want to have my treatment there, so I asked my oncologist for this to happen.
“The centre uses radiotherapy that is precisely directed only where needed so healthy parts of the body nearby aren’t zapped.”
Consultant oncologist, Dr David Boote, who specialises in urological cancers, explains: “The highly targeted, image guided radiotherapy provided at the South Downs Centre means that a patient’s cancer can be highly targeted reducing the effect on surrounding healthy tissue.
“This is particularly beneficial for prostate cancer as the prostate moves depending on how full the bladder is, or even whether or not there is gas present in the rectum. By taking a daily CT scan prior to each treatment session, the radiography team can ensure adjustments are made each day to ensure the radiotherapy is only directed where needed.”
Roger completed six weeks of radiotherapy treatment for his prostate cancer and was delighted not to experience any of the side effects often associated with the delivery of conformal radiotherapy.
He explained: “I was impressed right from the word go. Everyone at the centre was as welcoming as they were five years ago when Verity had her treatment. It was obviously much busier, but they still found the time to be there for you. They now provide complementary therapies too, so I was able to have some acupuncture which has been very helpful not just in relation to my cancer treatment, but also with some other health conditions.”
Verity, who is still taking tamoxifen following her treatment for breast cancer five years ago, added: “My oncologist told me about the centre when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time it was still being built. The first time I went to have a look around and meet the team, it wasn’t even open, but I was delighted that it would be, just in time for me to be able to have my radiotherapy there.
“Five years on, and I desperately wanted Roger to go there too. It was actually quite nice to go back – that is perhaps an odd thing to say about a cancer centre, but there is just something about the place. It’s an uplifting experience, not a depressing one.”
The couple devastatingly lost their daughter to a brain tumour, and so are particularly passionate about the availability of advanced cancer treatments and patient choice.
South Downs Centre manager, Amanda Jones, said: “These days people are much more likely to find out about the different options open to them and we’re seeing an increasing number of patients contacting us directly.
“It’s fantastic to be celebrating the centre’s fifth birthday. When we first opened, it was all about providing accessible, advanced radiotherapy treatments that were delivered with uncompromised care. Since then, we have kept one step ahead with the introduction of techniques and technologies such as deep inspiration breath-hold – or DIBH - which uses a lung spirometer to further reduce the risk of side effects for some breast cancer patients.
“There’s been no room for complacency, and our holistic care has also developed to look after patients in ways beyond their actual treatment. Through links with Macmillan and Penny Brohn Cancer Care we now offer patients support and complementary therapies that may reduce any anxiety and help them during and after their treatment.”
South Downs Centre has treated private and NHS patients of all ages and for a range of cancers, as well as some non-cancerous conditions. While the majority of patients live in Hampshire, West Sussex and the Isle of Wight, some have travelled greater distances to access the advanced treatments that are offered.