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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

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Second consultant's opinion saved ex-Carlisle mayor's life

This time last year Liz Mallinson was so convinced she would die from cancer, she was planning her own funeral.

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Liz Mallinson: ‘Innovative’

Now fully recovered, she’s urging all seriously ill patients to seek a second opinion, if given a pessimistic outlook by their surgeon.

Liz, 65, a county council cabinet member and Carlisle city councillor, had been told she had bladder cancer.

A consultant surgeon at the Cumberland Infirmary warned she would be unlikely to survive surgery and advised management of her condition until palliative care could be given.

But after Liz insisted on a second opinion, another consultant in Newcastle assessed her as fit for surgery and performed a six and a half hour operation to remove her bladder.

“According to the surgeon in Carlisle, I was going to die.” she said. “Either on the operating table or some short time later. I had two tumours – one a grade three.

“It was my son Tom who urged me to seek a second assessment. I was referred to Newcastle Freeman Hospital, where I was deemed fully fit for surgery and underwent an operation to remove the bladder.

“I’m as fit as a flea now. Clear of cancer, I’m cured. That surgeon saved my life.”

Only her husband John, also a county and city councillor, and Liz’s children knew of her predicament. She revealed nothing of her illness to council colleagues or friends.

She has chosen to speak of her ordeal now because she wants others to know the importance of spotting symptoms early and seeking best possible treatments – even if it means going elsewhere.

“I was lucky to have the support network of a close family. Not everyone will know they can press for another opinion, if they’re unhappy with the first. You can and should fight all the way to get what’s right for you. I’m only sad that what saved my life wasn’t available at my local hospital.I felt I’d been handed a death sentence in Carlisle. It was the most awful time.”

Fearing she would die, Liz visited her parish priest, chose her funeral hymns, anxious to ease pressure on her husband John, in his grief.

“I asked my priest if he could say mass for me at St Cuthbert’s Church – because as a former mayor I’d be entitled to a civic funeral.

“I have kept the cancer secret until now. Some colleagues knew I’d had an operation but didn’t know what it was for.

“I took six weeks off – two of them through the Easter break – and carried on with my responsibilities to the single status programme and delivering broadband for Cumbria.

“I travelled up and down the country, consulted with ministers in London. Not at any time did my condition hold me back.

“I swim three or four times a week – have done for years – each time swimming 30 lengths of the pool. I manage easily with the urostomy bag and if I can do it, anybody can.”

Liz was prompted to reveal her experience by the launch of a pilot campaign across Cumbria to raise awareness of bladder and kidney cancers.

The Be Clear on Cancer, Blood in Pee campaign urges fast response to symptoms and early diagnosis.

Liz had noticed blood in her urine and wasted no time seeing her doctor at Stanwix Medical Practice.

“I understand surgeons’ opinions can and will differ,” she said. “That’s why we’re entitled to more than one. But I feel that in Carlisle a judgement was made on my eligibility for surgery because of my age and my mobility problems.

“I have spondylitis of the spine. When I go out I use a stick and I had it with me when I went to the infirmary.

“But my lungs and heart are strong and they’re what matter under anaesthetic. At the Freeman I underwent extensive heart and lung function tests before the surgeon decided to proceed.”

A spokeswoman for The North Cumbria Hospitals Trust, which runs the Cumberland Infirmary, said: “Unfortunately, we are unable to comment on the care of individual patients due to the need to protect their right to confidentiality.

“However, we do have a patient advice and liaison service and a complaints department which is always keen to receive feedback from patients.”

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