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'Terrifying' impact of cancer diagnosis made worse by delays

Tracy Martin (left) from Banbridge who was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago joined Roisin Foster, chief executive of Cancer Focus NI to lobby politician at Stormont
Seanín Graham

A WOMAN who was diagnosed with breast cancer at a time when her father was battling the disease has described the 62-day target wait from diagnosis to treatment as the "longest two months of your life".

Tracy Martin (42) from Banbridge in Co Down said any breaches of the target were devastating for patients after watching her father, Brian, lose his fight to get an NHS drug that was available in England but not in Northern Ireland and led to him paying £4,500 for one dose when it was too late for treatment.

The mother-of-two was reacting to new figures that reveal the north's biggest health trust, the Belfast trust - where the regional cancer centre is based - treated just more than half (55 per cent) of its patients within the 62-day time frame in December.

Almost 500 patients were affected by the delays, which also took place in other trusts, with skin cancer, urgology and stomach cancer among the specialities worst hit due to staffing and capacity issues.

Last week Ms Martin lobbied Stormont politicians to act on the crisis and backed calls by leading charity, Cancer Focus NI, to be less "complacent" about its approach to the disease.

She was diagnosed with tumours in both breasts three years ago and required a double mastectomy. She then received the devastating news that the disease had spread to the lymph nodes. At the time, she had two young boys, aged six and ten.

The leisure centre worker is now on hormone blocking medication for 10 years and has returned to work part-time.

"It is terrifying enough to be faced with a diagnosis but to be told there will be delays in your treatment just adds to the pressures. Those 60-plus days waiting to get your surgery or start chemotherapy are the longest two months of your life," she said.

"Your first concern is whether the disease will spread and how your family cope without you. Thankfully I had no delays in treatment but I watched my dad being misdiagnosed - who had a rare blood cancer that spread to his bones - for six months and then paying for a drug that didn’t work as he was so weak."

Roisin Foster, chief executive of Cancer Focus, said the last government plan to tackle cancer in Northern Ireland was drawn up in 2006.

"A lot has happened since with an aging population and increased cancer diagnoses – yet we have no strategy to deal with it. It is very rare that patients will complain about cancer treatment but the process in getting to it is getting longer," she said.

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