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Sudbury mum’s incurable blood cancer discovered after she tried to donate blood

A mother-of-two who lives near Sudbury has praised an award-winning hospital team after her blood cancer returned.

Jane Finbow, who discovered she had incurable blood cancer in 2018 after trying to donate blood, has thanked staff at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge, for keeping her alive and supporting her.

Yesterday, the hospital’s haematology team was presented with the Myeloma UK Clinical Service Excellence Programme (CSEP) Award in recognition of its outstanding care and dedication to patients with myeloma.

The team at Addenbrooke's received the Myeloma UK CSEP Award on Tuesday. Picture: Submitted
The team at Addenbrooke's received the Myeloma UK CSEP Award on Tuesday. Picture: Submitted

Myeloma is an incurable blood cancer which claims the lives of 3,000 people in the UK each year.

Patient Jane Finbow discovered she had myeloma by chance after trying to donate blood.

She was told at the donor centre she was severely anaemic and subsequent tests revealed her symptoms were caused by incurable blood cancer.

Jane Finbow started treatment again last month. Picture: Submitted
Jane Finbow started treatment again last month. Picture: Submitted

By the time her myeloma was caught, Jane had suffered some kidney damage.

Five years on from her diagnosis and after four-and-a-half years in remission, her cancer has returned and she has started chemotherapy at Addenbrooke’s.

She said: “I was not worried about starting treatment again – I had absolute confidence in Addenbrooke’s,” said the 65-year-old.

“I’ve had the same consultant all the way through. There is such a continuity of care and the staff are all exceptionally kind.

Jane Finbow with her husband Andrew at the Myeloma UK garden at the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show. Picture: Submitted
Jane Finbow with her husband Andrew at the Myeloma UK garden at the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show. Picture: Submitted

“Initially I thought my experience was the same as others treated in other hospitals, but I know now from speaking to other patients in other parts of the country that it’s not the case.”

The hospital’s patient portal helped Jane to regain a sense of control amid the uncertainty of living with incurable cancer. It allows her to contact her team at the touch of a button, access her latest test results and prepare questions before each consultation.

“Everybody with myeloma lives with uncertainty – from one test to the next,” she said. “We know the cancer will come back but no one can tell you when. Things might change at any time. Having all the test results in one place and learning what signs to look for, what things to worry about or not worry about, helps.”

Jane said she had been feeling unusually tired for months prior to her diagnosis but she put it down to feeling ‘a bit lazy’.

Things came to a head when she went to donate blood and was told she was anaemic, then visited her GP, who said her symptoms were so severe she ‘could be dead within two or three months’.

“It was extremely shocking,” said Jane.

“But if I’d not gone to donate blood, I’m not sure at what point I would have gone to the GP. I didn’t think so at the time, but I’m lucky I went to donate blood.

“Being told it was ‘incurable but treatable’ was a shock. I was under the misapprehension that I was on a downward spiral, that it would get worse and worse. But, of course, I know now that’s not what it means. It’s not a slow and painful death – you can be treated back to a better quality of life.”

Although Jane’s cancer has returned, she hopes to be in remission again soon.

“I’m still here,” said Jane. “Relapsing hasn’t fundamentally changed my approach. There are more treatments than ever before so there has never been a better time to have myeloma.

“I’m hoping that this treatment will keep the myeloma at bay and that I’ll be able to get back to a place where it doesn’t dominate my life. Having such a kind and sensitive team on my side is very reassuring.”

Addenbrooke’s staff were praised by blood cancer charity Myeloma UK for their efforts to improve patients’ quality of life and eagerness to adapt and listen to their needs.

The CSEP award recognises hospitals’ commitment to raising the bar for treatment and providing compassionate care.

Helen Goad, Addenbrooke’s haematology clinical nurse specialist, said: “We are both proud and delighted. Thank you to all members of the multi-disciplinary team, without whom we would not be able to deliver the excellent care that has been recognised.

“We are very grateful to our patients for the support shown through this process in the form of feedback and encouragement. Achieving this award will help further reassure patients and their families that they are cared for safely and to a recognised high standard endorsed by Myeloma UK.”

Myeloma is especially hard to spot as the symptoms are often vague and dismissed as ageing or other minor conditions.

Rhys Owens, Myeloma UK clinical practice services senior projects officer , said: “Myeloma is a challenging cancer that can change on a dime, so we were hugely impressed by Addenbrooke’s efforts to support patients and make their lives that little bit easier.

“Because staff know all too well the physical toll long stretches of intensive treatment can take, especially for people living further afield, they’ve rolled out an outreach chemotherapy service at two GP practices on the outskirts of Cambridge staffed by Addenbrooke’s nurses. Patients can also use a drive-through service for blood tests to help reduce hospital visits.”

Myeloma currently affects more than 24,000 people in the UK.

While it is incurable, myeloma is treatable in the majority of cases.