‘If I had ignored symptoms, I could be in a very different situation’

Members of the OG Cancer NI group, including current Chair Helen Setterfield. The NI based patient and carer support group provides an opportunity for those affected by Oseophageal and Stomagh cancer to meet others in a similar situation.
Members of the OG Cancer NI group, including current Chair Helen Setterfield. The NI based patient and carer support group provides an opportunity for those affected by Oseophageal and Stomagh cancer to meet others in a similar situation.

Around 400 people in the North are diagnosed with Oesophago-Gastric Cancer each year.

Oesophago-gastric (OG) Cancer refers to cancer of the Oesophagus and stomach.

Noeleen McMorris, from Derry, who was diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer in 2016

Noeleen McMorris, from Derry, who was diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer in 2016

Symptoms are often vague and can often be overlooked. They include persistent heartburn, difficulty swallowing or regurgitation of food.

Survival rates remain relatively low and the latest statistics show that 83 per cent of patients diagnosed at a late stage will die within five years.

However; those diagnosed at an early stage have the best chance of successful treatment.

Derry woman, Noeleen McMorris, was diagnosed with Oesophageal Cancer in 2016.

Noeleen, who worked as a radiographer in Altnagelvin Hospital for 37 years, was preparing to retire when she received the diagnosis.

“In hindsight, I had the symptoms of Oesophageal Cancer for a while, but I didn’t even realise. I had reflux, indigestion and was hiccuping a lot. It wasn’t a thing that was bothering me though lots of people get that and it didn’t flag up to me that there was something wrong.

“The symptoms had been going on for about six weeks and I thought maybe I should just get it checked out.”

Noeleen admits she almost didn’t go to the GP because she thought it wasn’t urgent.

“I could have sat on that for much longer. I was retiring, Christmas was around the corner and we were going away for the New Year. I could have very easily left it for another couple of months and I would be in a very different situation.”

Noeleen was sent for further tests at the hospital and was told she had a tumour.

“It was a complete and utter shock and everything happened quite quickly after that. I was referred to the City Hospital in Belfast and underwent further tests before I saw the consultant.

Once she saw the consultant, Noeleen was given treatment options and was informed of all the risks and benefits.

She had six weeks of Chemotherapy and opted to have surgery, which was a major procedure which involved removing the Oesophagus.

“I had to undergo numerous tests to ensure I was fit to have the surgery. I was healthy and, looking back, I felt very much like why have I got this? What have I done to get this? I didn’t consider myself to be in the risk category of OG cancer.”

“The cancer was stage two and luckily enough I didn’t need any further Chemo after the surgery. If I had left it any longer, options would have been much, much different. The surgery was tough and it takes a long time to recover. After time spent in the High Dependency Unit and then a ward in the City Hospital, I came home to Derry, which was quite isolating.”

Noeleen was tube fed for a number of weeks after the surgery and her weight was closely monitored. It has affected how she eats, but this is a something she admits is a small price to pay to be cancer free.

“Initially you are a bit afraid to eat and two years on I still can’t eat the same. I feel full so quickly and there are certain foods I have to avoid.

“I eat six small meals a day and I have to look after myself as I can become completely drained if I don’t eat regularly. There are things you have to cope with, but you cope with them.”

As someone who worked in the health service for over three decades, Noeleen said she never knew anyone who survived Oesophageal Cancer.

Her consultant put her in touch with a group of other people who had.

The OG Cancer NI group, which is Belfast based but has members from all over N. Ireland, meet twice a year. The patient and carer led group offers support and advice to people who have OG Cancer.

Noeleen said the group has finally allowed her to meet others who have beaten the cancer.

“The support group provides help and information. It also allows us to find out more about the research being conducted into OG Cancer. Getting diagnosed with cancer has an impact on your mental health. As the years go by and you meet others in similar situations, you accept it a bit more.”

Noeleen urged anyone who may have the symptoms not to ignore them. “If Oesophageal cancer is caught early it can be treated. If something isn’t right, get it checked.”

The next meeting of OG Cancer, N.I. is on March 30 in the Beechlawn Hotel, Belfast. For more information visit www.OGCancerNI.com