(Professor Vin Paleri)
I can recall when I was told, over twenty years ago, I had cancer of the larynx. After finally getting checked out and having a biopsy I turned up to a clinic to hear the best or worst news. As it happened, it was the worst and I did have cancer of the larynx. I was with the doctor for around 2 minutes and I left the consulting room to await a further appointment when treatment would be discussed. The news was that I had a stage 2 tumour and that radiotherapy was likely to be the appropriate treatment. The news was delivered in a matter of fact way and I heard nothing from the doctor that invited me to share my thoughts or ask questions.
At this time I was reading the book “C because cowards get cancer too”, by John Diamond a journalist who was married to Nigella Lawson. His throat cancer journey did not go well and he died in 2001. In his book he described when he got the worst news of all from his consultant, that his cancer was not curable. “He gave us the news white-faced, nervous and with eyes downcast as if it was something both unsayable and already said”.
In July Channel 4 broadcast a series called Super Surgeons, which featured Professor Vin Paleri, an ENT surgeon at The Royal Marsden Hospital. In the second of three programmes his patient, Peter, had a difficult oral cancer. Several courses of treatment were employed but finally the cancer returned with no viable treatment options left. It was wonderful to see the connection and empathy between Professor Paleri and Peter and his family as his treatment progressed. When the treatment options ran out the conversations were sensitive and extremely moving.
I am sure this part of the care pathway, sharing bad news, has improved since my time. As seen in the programme, Professor Paleri represents the best of the NHS. In the other two programmes in the series, we saw him using robotic surgery to treat a patient reluctant to have a laryngectomy and carrying out a partial laryngectomy on another. I can thoroughly recommend viewing the series of programmes on All4, if you have missed them.