I’d like you to try to imagine a scenario. You are elated to discover that you are pregnant and plan on how you will tell your friends and family. You visit your doctor for routine management of your pregnancy to find that you are asked to undertake a series of tests at a cancer hospital. You are told the news that, not only are you not pregnant, you actually have cancer. Can you imagine how devastating that must feel?
Although a relatively rare occurrence, this happens with approximately one in every six-hundred pregnancies in the UK, a condition known as Gestational Trophoblastic Disease (GTD). GTD covers a group of conditions in which tumours grow inside a woman’s uterus. The abnormal cells start in the tissue that would normally become the placenta. GTD can simulate pregnancy because the abnormal tissues produce the pregnancy hormone called HCG.
The Sheffield Trophoblastic Diseases Centre epitomises very ‘Yorkshire’ approach to outstanding work being undertaken on a day-to-day basis on our doorstep.
This was the situation in which one of our supporters, 23-year-old Jenna McGregor, found herself. Having received nine months of care and treatment at The Sheffield Trophoblastic Diseases Centre based at Weston Park Hospital following a diagnosis of GTD, Jenna recovered well but was then given the devastating news that it was unlikely she would be able to have children of her own in the future.
The Sheffield Trophoblastic Diseases Centre is one of only two specialist centres in England, which doesn’t only provide support to local patients such as Jenna but patients from across the north of England and north Wales, all of them female, many of them young. The Centre is a collaboration between a range of partners including the University of Sheffield, Weston Park Hospital and charitable partners including Weston Park Cancer Charity.
It might be little known but the centre performs on an international stage, its clinicians, nursing and research staff contributing to ground-breaking advances in treatment and care in collaboration with colleagues from around the world. This knowledge is then used to the benefit of patients being treated and cared for today in Sheffield.
The Sheffield Trophoblastic Diseases Centre epitomises what I would see as a very ‘Yorkshire’ approach we have to the outstanding work being undertaken on a day-to-day basis on our doorstep. Despite being a world-leader in the treatment and research for this rare form of cancer, it’s something that is very rarely shouted about; these health professionals have a very self-effacing approach to the remarkable work they do. And it’s not just the work being undertaken by this team which we should be shouting about from the roof tops.
Sheffield cancer researchers, many of them women, are leading the way in the global fight against cancer, researchers such as Dr Victoria Parker who is working collaboratively with colleagues across the country to understand the response of GTD patients to chemotherapy using the world’s largest database of GTD patients.
As a charity we invest over £500,000 each year into cancer research which is taking place in Sheffield for the benefit of patients now and in the future. Together with other charitable partners we have supported researchers to build the international reputation which Sheffield has gained which in turn attracts up-and-coming researchers to the city and enables established researchers to sustain and develop their teams.
The engineering and manufacturing sector in Sheffield has developed the Made in Sheffield brand, a mark of the quality of its product when judged on the national and international stage and arguably this should be extended to the cancer research undertaken in our city. This is being achieved despite lower levels of investment compared with other parts of the country.
A study by The Association of Medical Research Charities highlighted a profound North/South divide into investment in cancer research in the UK. Whilst Yorkshire accounts for 8.3% of the population it receives just 4.2% of the total amount of charity money spent on cancer research in the country.
Eight years on from her diagnosis, Jenna has defied the odds and has two children aged five and four. I am constantly humbled in my work by seeing on a daily basis the outcomes from the cancer research being undertaken by the teams in Sheffield and feel immensely proud to think that Weston Park Cancer Charity has played a part in making this happen.
Each day we receive calls and visits to our office in Weston Park Hospital from patients and their family members grateful that they’ve been given extra time with their loved ones. As Director what drives me on is those people I meet for whom the outcome has not been so positive, whose own prognosis is poor or uncertain or who have lost a loved one.
There is no doubt a moral imperative to find ways of helping more people to survive, and hopefully, even thrive after cancer but there is also an economic driver to invest in local cancer research. The 2014 report’ Medical Research: What’s It Worth?’ reviewed the economic benefits of cancer-related research and found that each pound invested in cancer-related research by the taxpayer and charities returns around 40 pence to the UK every year.
So, when thinking about how to spend your charitable pound what better way to satisfy both your head and your heart than by choosing to invest it in local cancer research?