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Specialist nurses like me can transform mesothelioma care

Specialist nurse Leah couldn't pass up the opportunity to support people with mesothelioma more closely.

Leah (right) with Chris Knighton of MKMRF

My first experience of mesothelioma was as a student nurse 20 years ago. I cared for a woman who had been exposed to asbestos dust while washing her husband’s overalls.

I remember being shocked that so little was known about this devastating disease and that there was neither treatment nor cure. All I could do was manage her symptoms.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lung lining mainly caused by exposure to asbestos. Most people will die within months of their diagnosis and fewer than one in ten will survive three years.

Over the next 30 years, it’s expected that 60,000 people will die as a result of mesothelioma. Yet far less funding is invested into researching this cancer than into diseases that kill similar numbers of people, such as skin cancer.

Change is coming about, slowly but surely. But there is still so much to be done to support people affected by this terrible condition.

I can’t imagine doing anything else other than being a nurse and caring for people. Looking after people with cancer and those at the end of life have always been the parts of nursing I’ve found most rewarding.

When I heard that the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund (MKMRF) – part of the British Lung Foundation – had decided to fund the first ever mesothelioma clinical nurse specialist in the North East, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The North East is one of the areas worst affected by the disease in the UK.  As a mesothelioma nurse specialist I’m able to provide much needed support, care and access to information about new research and treatments for those affected by mesothelioma.

I treat patients in Northumberland and North Tyneside and work with other regional teams to improve access to support groups, treatments and information. As nurse lead for mesothelioma, I'm also responsible for ensuring mesothelioma issues are raised regionally.

There’s so much that I enjoy about being a mesothelioma nurse specialist, but I particularly love the interaction with patients and the knowledge that I can help - even in a small way - at a time that is so difficult for them. I love that no two days are ever the same and I feel I’m always learning something new.

This is an important time for mesothelioma care in the UK. Nurse specialists have the potential to significantly transform care for those affected by mesothelioma. There are currently ten mesothelioma clinical nurse specialists here and I’m very excited to see how this network of expertise develops both in my region and in other parts of the country.

Those affected by mesothelioma deserve far better than what they’ve had over the past 20 years. I feel very privileged to be working with the MKMRF and the BLF and I feel proud to be able to say I’m part of this new chapter in mesothelioma care.

Leah is making a difference, but without more investment in research, there's only so much she can do. You can help by making a donation today.

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23 June 2015