Widow’s bone cancer diagnosis plea

Julian Materna, from Stannington, Sheffield, pictured in a cafe in Liverpool
Julian Materna, from Stannington, Sheffield, pictured in a cafe in Liverpool

When Julian Materna hurt his arm while cycling with wife Trudi in the Peak District, it appeared nothing more than a common sporting injury.

He was sent home from the minor injuries unit with paracetamol and told the pain should ease in a few days.

But physiotherapy made little difference and then Julian’s shoulder began to swell up massively.

Tests at the Northern General Hospital found a lesion on his left arm - a sign that he had in fact developed deadly osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer which claimed his life aged 46.

Now Trudi is backing a campaign by the Bone Cancer Awareness Trust for earlier diagnosis by GPs after a report revealed survival rates for the disease have not improved in 25 years.

Symptoms often include painful bones or swollen joints, which can easily be put down to sporting injuries or, in younger patients, ‘growing pains’.

“Julian was pretty much the textbook version, apart from his age,” said Trudi.

“Primary bone cancer tends to affect teenagers and people in their early 20s, so for Julian, at 42 he wasn’t in the usual age range. I think that probably confused matters further.”

Osteosarcoma starts when a single bone cell becomes abnormal and grows out of control to form a tumour. The cells in the tumour still act like bone, trying to create new bone as they grow and divide.

Julian, an IT worker, from Stannington, was given chemotherapy at Weston Park Hospital, before undergoing surgery to remove his left arm, shoulder blade and collar bone. Despite losing a limb, he continued to indulge his passion for biking and climbing.

He was an access rep for the British Mountaineering Council with Trudi, who was also secretary for the council’s Peak Area.

In the mid-2000s, Julian was involved in a series of conservation projects, such as at Stanage and the eastern moors.

“Ultimately he was a better off-road rider than ever, and far braver and more skilful than me. He fell off a lot but he learned how to do that without injuring himself too much.”

In June 2011, after three years in remission, a routine check showed Julian’s cancer had returned in his right lung.

While writing a moving blog about his time as a cancer patient, Julian had further surgery and chemotherapy, and was starting to recover when yet more cancer was discovered. He died in June last year.

“He got breathless but wasn’t really poorly until the last two days. I don’t think he would say that he was brave. He was just getting on with it, that was his mindset.

“There is a balance between being rational and alarming people. You don’t want to put the ‘C’ word into someone’s head unnecessarily, but if someone of Julian’s age has symptoms, maybe GPs should keep it at the forefront of their mind when making a diagnosis.”

Trudi has now moved to Cornwall, where she hopes to be a sports therapist, partly inspired by Julian’s experiences.

“When I was in Sheffield after he died, every time I drove down Manchester Road or up Barnsley Road near the Northern General, different things reminded me of bad times.

“Now I can think of happy memories, rather than sad ones.”

According to the National Cancer Intelligence Network, chances of surviving many common cancers have doubled, but bone cancer is lagging behind. The Bone Cancer Awareness Trust is calling for GPs to be given more tools to make diagnoses earlier.