The Guardian estimates there are over 625,000 UK cancer survivors suffering long term side effects from their treatment. And this is increasing. We have very basic care on the NHS, but there is nothing – except having to pay – to stop us taking advantage of European hospital treatment, especially when it comes to handling long term side effects
With getting appointments increasingly difficult, is going abroad a viable option?
WHEN MACMILLAN PUBLISHED CURED – BUT AT WHAT COST, I SHOUTED HURRAH!
Macmillan’s Report highlighted that up to 25% of us might eventually end up with long term side effects from Tamoxifen alone. At last, official acknowledgement of our problems! In my naive way I imagined this would mean I wouldn’t have to plead for help. Silly me – nothing changed.
Asking for help dealing with long term consequences such as Lymphoedema, Neuropathy, Osteoporosis, skin problems, etc. meets with indifference, but the report acknowledged that serious problems often appear even long after treatment finishes. When side effects started, I had expected to talk over possible actions with doctors; instead I have been “abandoned“.
Yet European cancer centres expect to have to deal with long term side effects, and when I took the plunge I found it surprisingly easy to get informed, up-to-date care. Recently I was in one of London’s cancer hospitals, and was astonished to hear from a Consultant that European hospitals were behind us – so I asked why it was we were bottom of survival table. He had the grace to mumble that perhaps he was misinformed.
Peering at bloody blisters thaat appeared all over my body,three days after starting Tamoxifen, my hospital’s Chief Dermatologist informed me “it’s your age” David Brown, the hospital Chaplain, found me down in the dumps, and tried to reassure me. As a member of the Ethical Committee that approved Tamoxifen, he was well up in the many side effects caused by this drug, and had been invited all over the world to lecture on these. Telling me the Consultant was speaking nonsense,he got out his contacts superb contacts list, and suggested I should go off to France, and arranged for me to see a colleague at La Roche Posay, the French skin centre that deals with over 10,000 patients a year.
You can take a budget airline flight, but it is worth looking into Eurostar combined with local trains. Disabled passengers check-in one hour before departure – unlike hours wasted at airports. Once checked in ,staff slip into a well-oiled routine, even positioning wheelchairs near loos on board for easy access. If you can afford it, Leisure Class is worth it, especially for the extra room and meals, and you can strech out abd take a nap. .
If you have to change trains, try and do this at Lille – where you jusy go between platforms, rather than in Paris where it takes over an hour to transfer between stations, And I always found assistance waiting to help me with onward journey, right where train stopped (look on platform and you see seat numbers written there).
What is it like in a French Hospital?
Arriving, I found Reception full of men putting on make-up. Badly burnt, they were learning how to conceal scars; another side to French care,. The Centre itself was efficient;
- No waiting around for appointments.
- Many staff trained in America, so spoke excellent English.
- First appointment was with a ‘gatekeeper’ doctor, who outlined who was waiting to see me.
- No sooner had I finished one appointment, stepping out into the corridor there was a smiling face beckoning me into another consultation. In between, any spare time meant I was given a superb massage. By the end of the first day I had had tests to confirm my blisters were a side effect of Tamoxifen, was given results of these, plus a box full of lovely lotions and potions clinically designed to help my skin recover
Sadly David died. So I had to learn to sort out the next problems myself. But it is surprising what one can find on the Internet. First off, I discovered major American cancer hospitals had informative websites (see below).
Then, as my job took me all over Europe, I could decide if I wanted to be treated at home. Or, if waiting times were too long, I looked up the best place in Europe to treat the condition, sold an Editor the idea of doing a travel piece around wherever I wanted to go – and set off.
Eurostar made day trips possible, and when drugs dried out my skin, I ended up in a medical spa surrounded by the French Tour de France cycling team on a training session; another time I was bumped off a dog sled (huskies soon realised I hadn’t a clue about mushing) – but the hospital sorted out the bruises – and my painful joints. Food was certainly good (except in German hospitals – lots of stodge). Italian medics were like extras in a film, and three years ago wired me up to an all-singing computer that is just being trialled in the UK. And European medical care always seems to include at least one massage session. Bliss!
Disadvantages? Having to pay (although I did get some treatment on the EHIC card) – but bills were cheaper than I thought. And I love the European ‘can do’ attitude. Faced with a problem, they weren’t going to shrug it off as ‘due to age’, but worked hard to find a solution.
Long term side effects still pop up, so I started this website to offer short-cuts to others on finding help:
very articulate Forum discussing pros and cons of various cancer drugs
ASCO – American Society of Clinical Oncology
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital]
Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center
Johns Hopkins Hospital
University of Washington Medical Center
Contacting American hospitals seems incredibly easy; they are supposed to be money-oriented, but those I came across were very helpful.
So go for it – it is surprising, and fun! If you have non-medical questions, am happy to tell what I did, email me on [email protected]