3 Jan 2011

Smiling happily as she teaches medicine in Africa, this is the young doctor who was ‘betrayed’ by Britain’s healthcare postcode lottery.
Becky Smith, 30, was told she could be dead within 18 months after her breast cancer was missed four times and health chiefs refused to fund a breakthrough treatment.
The Daily Mail told in May how her local NHS trust had denied funding for the £23,000 treatment, despite it being freely available from 40 other trusts across Britain.

Dr Smith won a funding U-turn after the Mail highlighted her case, and has now had the drug therapy, which she hopes will help to prolong her life. Together with months of chemotherapy and other treatment, it has stabilised her condition and left her well enough to realise her dream of teaching her skills to doctors in Africa.

Dr Smith flew to Tanzania within days of finishing her latest round of chemotherapy, and has just completed a two-week stint of voluntary work at a hospital there.

She said: ‘I am so grateful that I have had this chance – I have no symptoms at the moment, I’m not ill and I don’t feel ill.
‘For the first time in months, I don’t feel like a cancer patient. It goes to show what is possible, even with a terminal diagnosis.
‘But it’s only possible if you’re given the treatment you need to give you a fighting chance.’

Dr Smith found a pea-sized lump in her left breast in April 2008, when she was 28 and working at High Wycombe Hospital in Buckinghamshire.

She went to her GP but was told to wait a month because she was considered too young to have breast cancer and it was more likely to be a cyst.

She returned to her doctor in June and was referred to a specialist cancer clinic at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. She was given an ultrasound scan and examination but was told the lump was a benign cyst which posed no risk to her health.
But by December 2008 the lump had grown to the size of a golf ball and she returned to see a third GP at her local practice. Again, her fears were dismissed.

Dr Smith, a urologist, then asked a cancer care nurse at her own hospital for help. A scan revealed three lumps in her breast and she was diagnosed with cancer the day after her 29th birthday.

Worse still, further scans found it had spread to her liver and her spine, where it was inoperable.

She had a mastectomy to remove the breast cancer, and doctors believe she could live for ten to 20 years with the tumours in her spine, if they can treat her liver cancer. Specialists recommended she receive Selective Internal Radiation Therapy, but her local primary care trust in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, refused to fund it.

It said there was not enough evidence that it was cost-effective, or that it would be successful.
Dr Smith was faced with having to cancel her wedding to childhood sweetheart Simon Morton to pay for the treatment, or allowing her retired parents to remortgage their house.

Within days of the Mail reporting her plight, generous readers had pledged more than £12,000 to help her. But she won an appeal against the funding decision, and completed her last round of treatment in November.

It is too early to know if it has successfully shrunk the tumours in her liver enough for them to be removed or destroyed, but preliminary scans have shown an improvement.

Meanwhile, Dr Smith married her fiance, a chartered engineer, in July and was able to carry out charity work on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, where average life expectancy is just 47.

Before her cancer diagnosis, she had been due to do a year’s voluntary work at the Makunduchi Hospital on the island, but was forced to cancel it while she had treatment.

Dr Smith said: ‘It’s been wonderful to be back in a hospital and working alongside doctors again.’

SOURCE: Daily Mail


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