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Why I'm thankful to healthcare staff for giving me the gift of hope


Roll back four-and-a-half years and I was a busy mum with two part time jobs, studying for a PhD in wildfowl demography, with a busy social life. I’ve always loved fitness and was a member of a running club and went to the gym a couple of times a week. I had been vegetarian for most of my life. My future stretched out before me; it was a total shock when I got a cancer diagnosis. I had been training for a half marathon and had reached the 11 mile mark when I had to stop as my back was in agony. Doctors discovered I had broken my back in three places and had extensive breast cancer that had spread to my bones. I had to have an emergency corpectomy to remove vertebrae and a hip replacement.

After the surgery I was very keen to regain my fitness, so I slowly built up my strength and walked every day and also tried to get to the gym three or four times a week. I did a lot of research on diet, and during these years I tried water fasting, low carb, and keto diets. I felt at a bit of a loss as to which one suited me best. I also was considering looking at trials, especially the ones about diet and exercise, as I felt I needed some guidance on what type of food would help me regain my fitness.

Encouraging patients to get involved in trials

After three years my first cancer treatment had to be changed. My oncologist provided me information on possible trials and during this time of progression he brought in the research team at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust to talk about trials I could access. The team were very friendly, and it was reassuring to speak to them about all the different drugs that are currently available and also possible drugs that are being explored in the trial setting. I was keen to be involved in research to help other patients. I enrolled on the B-AHEAD3 trial, which is  led by Dr Michelle Harvie. The trial is looking at a diet and exercise programme to help women manage their weight during chemotherapy and maintain or increase their muscle mass.

I was on the trial for 14 months and I found it such a positive experience. It gave me something positive to focus on, whilst being guided by trained professionals. It was a wonderful support to have. It was fantastic to  work with a nutritionist, where I could ask lots of questions. I was given an exercise programme to do alongside my gym schedule. I was told to walk everyday by my spine surgeon, and to do pilates and yoga by my oncologist.

Research changes lives

To any healthcare staff members that are thinking about entering research, go for it! Research changes lives. It’s only by keeping up to date on better treatments and care, as well as improving diagnosis and prevention that we can improve patient care.  Through research into cancer and other conditions you could make a huge difference to many people all over the world. There are so many areas of cancer biology that still need to be investigated. Talking to my oncologist about research really gave me hope. What I need as a patient is hope, and I know, as a scientist, that research will eventually work out how to cure, or enable people to live longer with a cancer diagnosis. All cancer patients need hope.

By Beth Roberts, research participant on the B-AHEAD 3 trial

(B-AHEAD 3 is the follow up to the B-AHEAD and B-AHEAD 2 trials. Both B-AHEAD and B-AHEAD 2 were supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN))

More information about the NIHR’s Your Path in Research campaign is available on the NIHR website.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.