Ysbyty Gwynedd has scooped a national award for its commitment to patients living with incurable blood cancer.
The Bangor hospital’s haematology team was today (Wednesday, August 2) presented with the Myeloma UK Clinical Service Excellence Programme (CSEP) Award in recognition of its outstanding care and dedication to patients with myeloma, an incurable blood cancer which claims the lives of 3,000 people in the UK each year.
Staff were praised for their efforts to improve patients’ quality of life and eagerness to adapt and listen to their needs.
The accolade, awarded by blood cancer charity Myeloma UK, recognises hospitals’ commitment to raising the bar for treatment and providing compassionate and personalised care.
Dr Earnest Heartin, Consultant Haematologist and Clinical Director at Ysbyty Gwynedd, said: “I am delighted we have been given this award. Myeloma is often difficult to diagnose as symptoms may be non-specific. The diagnosis is often delayed – but in the last 10 years survival rates have increased faster than most other cancer.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure local myeloma patients can access top-quality care, from ground-breaking national trials to supportive care.”
Victoria Jones, Haematology Clinical Nurse Specialist at Ysbyty Gwynedd, added: “Despite being a small team we are able to offer current clinical trials to all patients with myeloma and are up to date with all treatments available for myeloma. Going forward we will continue to strive for excellence in myeloma care and develop our services to be at the cutting edge.”
Myeloma is especially hard to spot as the symptoms are often vague and dismissed as ageing or other minor conditions.
By the time many patients are diagnosed their cancer has often advanced and they require urgent treatment. This can significantly impact their chances of survival and quality of life.
Jess Turner, Clinical Practice Services Programme Manager at Myeloma UK, said: “Myeloma is a challenging cancer which keeps coming back and can become resistant to treatments over time, so having easy access to clinical trials makes a tremendous difference to patients’ lives. We were hugely impressed by the team’s constant efforts to secure the latest, most effective experimental drugs and give patients every opportunity to keep their cancer in check.
“Staff also know all too well the physical toll that long stretches of intensive treatment can take, especially for people living further afield, and they work closely with community hospitals to help patients get treated closer to home, wherever possible.
“To be able to present this award to Ysbyty Gwynedd on our charity’s 25th anniversary has made this occasion even more special and truly shows how much headway has been made in the treatment of myeloma.”
Patient Stephanie Roberts, a grandmother-of-five from Porthmadog, was diagnosed with myeloma in 2021, weeks after breaking her right hip. She was 74 years old.
By the time her cancer was caught she had lesions, or holes, in her jaw bones.
She immediately signed up to a clinical trial.
The former teacher credits the team at the hospital for constantly pushing to find new treatments and keeping her alive all these years.
“They’re keeping me alive,” said the mother-of-two. “Dr Heartin is a gift, and the team are absolutely brilliant. The keyword here is ‘kindness’.
“You feel this warmth from them, it’s like a family. When you get a team like that behind you, you know you’re going to be all right. You’re in the arms of a unit that protects you every step of the way. You really are receiving fantastic treatment for myeloma.”
Looking back, Stephanie, now 77, may have had symptoms for some time, including pain in her leg she’d put down to arthritis.
Stephanie had been looking after her grandchildren on New Year’s Eve 2020 when she decided to take them out for a walk. On the way back, she slipped and broke her right hip.
She had a hip replacement the following day and didn’t think more of it. That is, until, out of the blue, a couple of months later she received a call telling her she had smouldering myeloma – an early form of myeloma which usually progresses to active cancer at a slower rate.
But an MRI scan soon confirmed she actually had active myeloma.
“So many people have myeloma but don’t know it – like me, I thought it was arthritis,” she added. “When Dr Heartin called me in, I was not frightened. It was a relief to know what it was and to know I was going to be looked after. There was no question that wasn’t answered. I know there’s no cure but it’s treatable.”
Thankfully, Stephanie is now in partial remission. Although treatment has taken its toll and she’s been left with some nerve damage in her right hand as a result, she is determined to make every day count.
“I have damage from the drugs but I’m still here,” she said. “It’s about today and the future. I would like to live to see my grandchildren grow up and I don’t want to give anything up. I’m aware that I will be going back on chemo drugs as my paraprotein levels are rising, and I am aware that the team will be doing everything they can to keep me alive.”