“I’m 33 with stage four cancer, and I wouldn’t have got through this awful time without the Teenage and Young Adult Cancer service at Royal Surrey” | News

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“I’m 33 with stage four cancer, and I wouldn’t have got through this awful time without the Teenage and Young Adult Cancer service at Royal Surrey”

Clara is pictured with three members of the TYAC team, standing together in the corridor of the TYAC ward

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is devastating at any age, and for young people the news is often unexpected and the experience can be particularly traumatic and lonely. But for 33-year-old Clara Ferguson, the Teenage and Young Adult Cancer (TYAC) service at Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust has been a saviour.

The service is designed for people aged 16 to 30. With a sofa, a games console, TV, music and walls decorated with travel murals and pictures of faraway places, it is designed to feel nothing like a hospital. The team members offer cancer treatment, care, support and a more social environment that suits younger patients.

In recognition of providing “unwavering support to patients and their families during the most difficult time of their lives,” the unit was voted the Patients’ Choice winner in the Trust’s annual staff awards, which took place at the end of 2023.

Clara Ferguson, from Bracknell, is one of six patients who nominated the team for the award. Clara received a stage four skin cancer diagnosis at age 30 after noticing a suspicious mole on her lower back. Initially, the mole was thought to be harmless but, after causing Clara significant discomfort, was removed. However, the routine biopsy results showed that the mole was cancerous and Clara was informed that the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes.

Clara was first referred to Royal Surrey’s main skin cancer service. She transferred to the TYAC service because her treatment team saw she was struggling to cope and felt she would benefit from the specialist care offered by a team that focuses on young adults. Clara said:

“The shock of my cancer diagnosis following the removal of a mole that was thought to be harmless hit my mental health hard.

“I then received a further blow when I found out that I was in the early stages of a much-wanted pregnancy for a second child. Tragically, I was told I would not be able to have a potentially life-saving treatment if I continued with the pregnancy. I consequently had to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life. This brought on a lot of trauma and guilt as it affected not only me, but my partner and son.

“It was heart-breaking and, at that point, I was transferred to the TYAC service. The ward offered so much more than I expected it would. As well as a relaxed and welcoming environment, the kindness and dedication of the team instantly shone through.

“They are responsive and in touch with young people. We have a WhatsApp group, so it’s easy to send messages about absolutely anything that is troubling me and I never feel like I’m asking a silly question. The team even organises social events for all the patients and staff to get together.

“Right from the start, I felt listened to and safe. There’s nothing I couldn’t speak to the TYAC team about or ask. I just know that they have their patients’ best interests at heart. It takes a very special person to do the job they do, and every single member of the team is special.

“I am now receiving cancer treatment indefinitely. I take targeted drug therapy at home, so, unlike many TYAC patients, I don’t often come on the ward for treatment. When I come to the ward these days, it’s usually for a counselling session. However, that could change at any time. If my current treatment stops working in the future, there are other treatment options that will see me back on the ward more. And I know the whole team will be there for me if that happens.

“I’m 33 with stage four cancer, and I wouldn’t have got through this awful time without the Teenage and Young Adult Cancer service at Royal Surrey. They are the most kind and caring people I have ever met who provide unwavering support to patients and their families during the most difficult times of their lives. I always leave the ward feeling a little lighter and with a smile.”

Royal Surrey is a leading specialist cancer centre with expertise in a range of cancers, treating around 8,500 people each year. Its cancer service is integrated with all the services of an acute general hospital, meaning that cancer patients receive the full range of care needed in the one place, for example surgery, emergency care or ongoing cancer treatment.

TYAC was added to the Trust’s cancer service 11 years ago. Clinical Nurse Specialist Nana Akowuah-Addo has been caring for cancer patients at the Trust for 17 years and has been with TYAC for 10 of those years. She said:

“We want people to feel at home on the ward. It’s a place where young people can meet others their own age. They can share their worries and experiences with people in a similar situation and get the very best care from our dedicated team of nurses.

“Our ward is designed to feel uplifting. It’s decorated with a holiday theme because that’s what our patients wanted. They told us that they would like something positive to focus on to help get them through what is the most difficult time of their lives. Very often that is a holiday that they can look forward to after their treatment.

“On the unit, we have a holistic approach to patient care. We don’t just provide medical care for cancer, we extend our care to the psychological health of our patients and their families. We get to know them all well too, which is lovely. We’re all friends – staff, patients and their families.”

The TYAC team was presented with their Patients’ Choice award at the Trust’s Royal Surrey Stars annual staff awards ceremony, which took place in November 2023 at Guildford Cathedral’s Seasons Restaurant. It is one of 16 awards presented to Royal Surrey colleagues throughout the evening.

The ceremony was fully funded by sponsors, including the Trust’s hospital portering, domestics and catering provider, Medirest, and CBRE, who provide the Trust with essential facilities and maintenance services.

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