Two patients who have been receiving treatment at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre this year have kindly shared their thoughts about the way the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their lives. And why the treatment offered through the centre is so vital to them.

Paul Charlton:

Paul Charlton, originally from Gateshead and now living in Ouston, has been a Sir Bobby Robson Centre patient since January.

Paul Charlton

Now retired, Paul was a service technician for Miele for 40 years and is married to Norine. They have three children, Holly, Steven and Jack, and young grandchildren, Alfie (8), Frankie (2) and Nate (1).

Three years ago, Paul sought help after a prolonged stomach ache and was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to the lymph nodes in his pelvis and left kidney.

The chemotherapy he initially received did not prove effective, so he began hormone and steroid therapy combined with radiotherapy. This worked to begin with but became less effective in time and he was given the option to try something new through the Sir Bobby Robson Centre.

Paul says: “It’s hard to describe the feeling when you hear you have cancer. It’s like a dark cloud coming over but you don’t want to stay feeling like that our you’ll bring your whole family down with you.

“It’s a scary thing, and obviously there have been some tears, but you need to try and stay positive if you can.

“That’s one of the reasons the Sir Bobby Centre is so important. Hope is a big thing when you have cancer. When you’re told there’s no hope that’s devastating. If you can give someone some hope, even a tiny percentage, it’s something to hold on to.

“Even someone saying it might work, it might put it on hold, it might give you a bit longer. You settle for that because life becomes very precious when you know you haven’t a lot of it left and we have three grandchildren I want to stay around to enjoy.

“Mind, we give Alfie a pound for every goal he scores for Chester-le-Street United and he cost us a fiver last weekend.”

Paul’s first drug trial at the Sir Bobby Centre was unsuccessful but he is beginning a new trial this week to target a ‘faulty gene.’

A big Newcastle United fan, Paul was thrilled to be in the centre when David Ginola visited in January this year and, like Sir Bobby did, Paul sees the work in the unit as a team effort.

Paul adds: “These are very strange times but everyone here is pulling together. I’ve always felt safe coming into the hospital. Everyone’s masked up and spread out.

“Visitors are limited at the moment but I’m used to coming in on my own now. It’s fine really because there’s a great team here. They really look after you and help keep you upbeat and I know there’s the option to bring Norine if there’s a difficult conversation to be had.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the care here. The treatment and the staff are a class above.”

Ken Preston:

Ken Preston, 60-years-old from Blyth and formerly a ductwork erector in Blaydon, was diagnosed with bladder cancer four years ago.

Ken Preston

His treatment began with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which was initially successful and he returned to work after six months off.

Then, at Christmas, a cystoscopy showed there was no cancer within his bladder but a urine sample showed cancerous cells. And, in the New Year, a PET scan revealed nodules in his neck.

At that time, knowing the previous treatment would not be effective again, his oncologist recommended discussing options at the Sir Bobby Robson Centre.

Ken says: “It was tough to hear that there was no standard treatment that was likely to work for me but good to know there was a something else we could try.

“I asked my oncologist for his best recommendation and he said, if it was a family member, he would tell them to try the Sir Bobby Centre. That was a good enough recommendation for me.

“You know there are no guarantees. My first treatment here was a combination of chemo and a trial immunotherapy drug. The chemo was having a bad effect on my bloods though and I needed transfusions and platelets. That had a knock-on effect on the timing of my drug treatment, so the decision was taken to go with the drug alone.

“I’ve been coming here since February and, so far, have shown a good response to the drug in my six-weekly scans.”

Ken is originally from Wigan and moved to the North East 42 years ago. He is married to Karen and has a son, Billy, and a five-year-old granddaughter, Milly.

Ken adds: “I’ve not been worried about Covid coming into the hospital and we’ve been very careful at home. In the unit here, everyone’s always well-spaced out and visitors are limited.

“It’s not an issue for me coming in on my own and I try to come in early to get out early, too.

“It’s all been very well-managed and I was given the option to come in to discuss scan results. I asked if I could just have them over the phone though.

“We’ve all just got to get on and deal with things. The pandemic is impacting us all, and it’s directly affected family members, but the dog will still need walking.

“I’ve been impressed by the team here. It’s all been made very straightforward for me and I haven’t felt my treatment’s been affected by what’s going on outside the unit.”