The shock effect never wears off

the shock effect never wears off

Patient stories are key to any awareness campaign.  Nothing like a human being standing up and letting you know about their experience.  Many are positive examples of how they are overcoming their trials and tribulations, others tell stories of a struggle. They all have different styles, some are the ‘kick ass’ type stories, some are just thankful, some are reflective – all of them are perfectly acceptable. I normally like to place myself somewhere in the middle with phrases like “I’m still here“, although I can veer left and right when the mood takes me!

Because of my social media footprint, I get a lot of private messages from people across the globe. Many are from people who have no wish to go public and that’s fine. Many are from people who value my opinion and that’s humbling. On forums, you can get 50 answers (all well meaning ones), with me you normally only get one (even if it’s a “I don’t know”).  Most are fairly easy to answer, just a link to something or asking for one of my articles they can’t seem to find.  Some are a bit trickier but I get there in the end.  Some are pretty worrying and really difficult to answer.  And nearly all of them amplify something we already know ……. despite some tremendous medical advances, there’s still a lot of unmet needs for Neuroendocrine Cancer patients, in particular access to NET specialists, access to the best and latest proven treatments and follow-up support for those affected by their experience (physical and mental). I’m talking in a global sense including countries perceived to be advanced in medical terms.

Take Patient A for example.  This patient has a classic well differentiated Small Intestinal NET (Si NET) with lymph node metastasis.  That resulted in fairly complex abdominal surgery that many of us will have had (including myself). For the past year, this patient has struggled with no follow on support, no dietary advice and has been left alone. This patient told me he is actually receiving his follow on advice from my blog site. This patient is also struggling on the emotional side because people say he looks rather well and have commented that he must have been wrongly diagnosed but at least is now “cured“.

Patient ‘B’ is similar.  This patient has had surgery (the surgeon got everything apparently ….) but has been declared non-syndromic on the basis there is no diarrhea.  However, there is flushing, joint paint, general abdominal issues, weight loss, headaches, fatigue, dehydration and chronic constipation.  It took this patient 6 months to find out about a local NET advocate organisation and 10 months to find out there was access to a dietitian.

Patient ‘C’ is worrying.  In this example I was contacted and asked about surveillance intervals as it was noticed I was having regular scans. What I found was someone who had a metastatic midgut NET and not had any surveillance for 3 years (including tumour/hormone marker checks and Echocardiograms).  This is despite an advanced healthcare system and oodles of availability. This patient is now seeing a NET specialist.

Patient ‘D’ had a horrendous experience.  This patient was treated as a bowel cancer case when they had a low-grade classic Si NET …… surgery and then classic bowel adenocarcinoma chemo. Now, it might be that was the only treatment modality available in this patient’s country but it’s a worrying example of the extent of the unmet needs for NET patients in the country concerned.

Patient E is so shocking, I wrote an entire article about this case.  Click here to read it.

Patient F has a similar story to patient E.  Click here to read it.

I could go on with many other examples and I might expand this post downstream.

One thing is very clear to me, we need a new paradigm in international advocacy and we need to start focusing more on these support issues.  As the number of people living with cancer rises, the requirement for post diagnostic support also rises.  Even those who are ‘stable’ need support.  One thing is for sure, the shock effect of what people tell me never wears off because I know there are more shocking stories still to hear.

 

Diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Cancer? – 10 questions to ask your doctor (and where to find a NET Specialist Worldwide)


find net specilaist and 10 qeusitons

On the day I was diagnosed, I hadn’t really thought about questions, the only one I actually remember asking was “how long do I have left to live” (I watch too many movies!). On the day of diagnosis and a period beyond, people tend to feel emotions of shock, denial, anger and sadness, before going on to accept their situation. Yes, I ‘googled‘ but not a great deal really – although some things I found did frighten me. I wish I had found this article way back then.

As things progressed in the weeks after ‘D-Day’, I started to work out the sort of things to ask but even then it was limited. I had been referred to an experienced NET team so I felt confident they would do whatever needed doing. In hindsight, I can now think of a quite a few questions I should have asked. That said, I suspect my team probably gave me the answers without having been asked the questions!

My blogging efforts have turned into a ‘Community’ of sorts. Consequently, I’m contacted daily from people finding me on the web. Many of these people are at the pre-diagnosis or initial phase. Many are undiagnosed. Most are looking for information and some sound like they are already at the ‘acceptance stage’; some are frightened about the future, some are angry because they think they are not being told important information and some also feel they have been messed about or ‘fobbed off’ by their doctors. Of course I’m happy to help but only after reminding them that I’m just a wee Scottish guy with the same disease!

I have to say that some people arrive on my site without a diagnosis but often seem to be very well prepared – the power of the internet I suspect. The questions I mostly get involve finding experts and then what questions to ask them.

Finding experts

As an extra bonus to this post, I offer you a starting point for the best places I know for finding NET expertise:

Europe – here at ENETS: European NET Centres of Excellence

UK – here at UKINETS: UK NET Centres

USA:

  • One US center is now the first to achieve a European NETs Center of Excellence accreditation – read more hear about University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Centerclick here
    NANETS have listed “NET Centers” here – NANETS NET Centers and Clinics
  • The NET Research Foundation as they also have a ‘Doctor Database’ section which differs slightly from CCF below.
  • Here at Carcinoid Cancer Foundation – Find a Doctor

Australia – here: Australian NET Doctors

New Zealand – Dr Ben Lawrence, based in Aukland.

Canada (from patient knowledge):

  • Dr. Simron Singh at Sunnybrook in Toronto
  • Dr. Shereen Ezzat at Princess Margaret in Toronto (PMH)
  • Dr. McEwan, The Cross Clinic, Alberta?
  • Dr Kavan at Montreal Jewish General Hospital (Oncology)
  • Dr Buteau / Beauregard at Quebec Hotel Dieu (Radiation Oncology (PRRT, Ga68)
  • Dr Rivera at Montreal General Hospital (Endocrinology)
  • Dr Metrakos at the Montreal Royal Victoria Hospital (Surgeon) sees a lot of NET patients
  • On the French side Dr Andre Roy at the CHUM in Montreal (surgeon) also sees a lot of NET patients
  • Dr. Jamil Asselah also treats net patients. He is an oncologist….Quebec
  • Michael Sawyer at Cross Clinic in Alberta Edmonton.
  • Drs. Parkins, Card, and Paseka at the Tom Baker CC in Calgary.
  • London Ontario: Dr. David Laidley, Dr. Robert Reid in the Neuroendocrine Clinic at London Regional Cancer Program and Dr. Daryl Gray, Surgeon.

Russia – Clinical Oncology Research Institute, N. N. Blokhin RCRC RAMS, Address: 24, Kashirskoye sh., Moscow, 115478, RF. NET specialist Alla Markovich

In my Group – ask other patients: Click here to join.

AskDoctor_0

Neuroendocrine Cancer – 10 questions to ask your specialist

Many people ask me what sort of questions to ask and because NETs is such a diverse bunch of diseases, that leads to me ask them a series of questions to ascertain what they might consider asking. I’m not surprised to find some are unable to answer my questions and so those then become some of their questions to ask!

Also, questions don’t end at the diagnosis phase, they continue and in fact, some of the answers to the questions below, may bring up new questions in your mind. Some of these questions can be asked time and time again in the event of issues downstream.

If you’re currently confused about the essential facts of your condition, you’re not alone. In a recent study, almost half of cancer patients did not know basic stuff such as grade and stage of cancer, and after their initial treatment, whether they were free of disease or in remission.

Pre-question Check

For those entering or are recently just beyond the diagnostic phase, you may find certain questions cannot yet be answered without further test results etc. However, if the answer is not yet known for whatever reason, at least you have it on your list for follow up appointments. Consequently, I’ve constructed this list of questions that should function as a generic set. There may also be ‘specific to country’ questions such as insurance cover in addition to this suggested list. Of course, some of you may not want the answer to so certain questions. That’s perfectly understandable, so don’t ask!

1. Where is my primary tumour and what type of NET is it?

This is a fundamental question and it’s likely many will already have some inkling about location and perhaps a type. The difference between NETs and other types of cancer is the primary can be found wherever there are Neuroendocrine cells rather than a specific part of the anatomy in terms of naming the type of cancer, i.e. a NET of the pancreas is not Pancreatic Cancer.

The type of NET is key as it will drive a lot of other stuff including treatment. Location and type of NET are not always aligned, for example, you may have a NET in your Pancreas but there are several types of Pancreatic NET (or pNET) and these may depend on identification of a particular hormone (see syndrome below). Many NETs are non-functional (there is no oversecreting hormone).

For some the primary will not yet be found (i.e. cancer of unknown primary or CUP). There may also be multiple primaries.

2. What is the grade and differentiation of my tumour(s)?

Another fundamental question as this defines the aggressiveness of the disease and is absolutely key in determining overall treatment plans. Treatment plans for poorly differentiated can be very different from well differentiated. Read more here – Grading and here – Benign or Malignant

3. What is the stage of my disease?

Fundamental to understanding the nature of your disease. Stage confirms the extent of your disease, i.e. how far has it spread. Again this will drive treatment plans and long-term outlooks. Scans are really important in determining the Stage of your cancer – check out my scans post here. Read more here on Staging

4. Do I have a NET Syndrome?

Many NET patients will have been experiencing symptoms prior to diagnosis, perhaps for some time. It’s possible these symptoms form part of what is known as a ‘Syndrome’ and there are several associated with NETs. Syndromes are mostly caused by the effects of over-secretion of hormones from the tumours, a hallmark of Neuroendocrine disease. Carcinoid Syndrome is the most common but there are many more depending on the primary location. Read more here – NET Syndromes.

5. What is my treatment plan, and what are the factors that will influence my eventual treatment? When will I start treatment

This is a very complex area and will depend on many factors. Thus why your specialist may not have the answers to hand. Decisions on treatment are normally made by some form of Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT).  Many people diagnosed with cancer expect to be whisked away to an operating theatre or chemotherapy treatment. However, for many this is not what actually happens. Depending on what testing has been done up to the actual diagnosis, it’s possible that even more testing needs to be done. Additionally, for those with an accompanying syndrome, this will most likely need to be brought until control before certain treatments can be administered; and even then, there may be checks to make sure the treatment will be suitable. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘Hurry up and wait’. My first treatment was 6 weeks after diagnosis and that was designed to control my syndrome ready for surgery which was undertaken 14 weeks after diagnosis. It’s also possible you will be placed on a ‘watch and wait’ regime, at least to begin with.

6. Can you comment on the potential for my type of NET to be related to any familial or genetic aspects of cancer?

A small percentage of NETs are hereditary/genetic in nature.  This is mostly associated with those who have Multiple Endocrine Neoplasms (MEN) syndromes  and a few other less common types of NET including Pheochomocytoma / Paraganglioma(Pheo/Para) and Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma (MTC) (the familial version of MTC is often referred to as FMTC). However, please note this does not mean that all those diagnosed with pancreatic, parathyroid, pituitary, Pheo/Para and MTC tumours, will have any hereditary or genetic conditions, many will simply be sporadic tumors.

7. Will you be able to get rid of all my disease?

This is a really difficult question for any specialist, even a Neuroendocrine expert. All published articles on NETs will say they are a heterogeneous collection of diseases (i.e. consisting of dissimilar entities) which makes this question (and others) difficult. I have read articles written by the world’s foremost NET experts and they all have the word ‘curative’ mentioned in various places. So I guess in particular scenarios with certain NETs, and if the disease is caught early enough, that possibility exists. However, for many, the disease could be incurable, particularly where there is distant metastasis. But, the disease has many treatment options for most types and for many it is possible to live as if it were a chronic condition. I call it ‘incurable but treatable’. Read more here – Incurable vs Terminal

8. What Surveillance will I be placed under?

Again, this is very individual in NETs and is mainly dependent on type of NET, grade and stage and how the patients reacts to treatment. This may not be known until you have undergone your initial treatment. For example, surveillance scans can be any period from 3 months to 3 years depending on tumour type(location) and stage/grade. Marker testing tends to average around 6 monthly but could be more or less frequently depending on what’s going on. Read more here – click here

9. Will I receive support and specialist advice after my treatment?

Let’s not be afraid of the word ‘Palliative’, it does not always mean ‘end of life’ care. Another example is nutrition. Many people with NETs, the condition in combination with the side effects of treatment may necessitate an alteration of diet and this is a very individual area. I would also emphasise that dietitians not well versed in NETs might not offer the optimum advice. Read more – My Nutrition Series.

10. How will treatment affect my daily life?

This is a question that many people miss but it’s becoming more important as we all live longer with cancer Again, this may not be possible to answer immediately but perhaps this question could be reserved once you know which treatment(s) you will be receiving. All treatment comes with side effects and can last for some time or even present with late effects after some years. The ‘consequences’ of cancer treatment need to be factored in earlier so that the necessary knowledge and support can be put in place. See also Unmet Needs for NET Patients

I suspect others will have suggestions for this list so feel free to submit these to me. I quite often refresh my posts over time.