Karen on being a Macmillan consultant radiographer

Published: 28 February 2020
Karen in a radiotherapy ward in hospital.

Karen is a Macmillan consultant radiographer at Musgrove Park Hospital in Somerset, providing support to people with cancer undergoing radiotherapy treatment. 

She says that radiotherapy can be a very daunting experience, so having someone there who can explain the treatment and its potential side effects is important.

'I want to give patients the very best care and attention.'

I tend to support patients during radiotherapy and afterwards as well, with late side effects that may occur as a consequence of cancer treatment. I’m their main point of contact. Radiotherapy can be a very daunting experience, so having someone there who can explain the treatment and its potential side effects, in a way that people can understand, is very important.

Radiotherapy is a very technically driven treatment and we need to make sure that patients and their relatives and friends understand exactly what they’re going through. We have an open evening here at the radiotherapy department once a month, where patients and their relatives can come and have a look around the treatment rooms and talk to some of the staff about some of their anxieties and fears. It really helps.

Patients have to be in the treatment room on their own for radiotherapy. We’re watching all the time on our TV cameras. It can be quite a claustrophobic experience and one of my roles is really to help patients overcome that fear and anxiety.

'Radiotherapy can be a very daunting experience.'

Information is usually put together based on patients’ needs. We don’t try to bombard them with every single leaflet in the rack, but we tailor information accordingly to every individual patient.

Patients often feel very anxious about coming in for treatment, radiotherapy in particular, as they don’t always fully understand what’s going to happen. For a lot of patients, it’s their first experience here. A lot of patients feel anger, confusion and distress. I try to help them overcome those emotions and support them throughout the process.

Side effects can occur in any part of the body – it depends on the area that we treat. With head and neck radiotherapy patients, they can suffer some quite nasty mouth ulcers, making swallowing, eating and communicating very difficult.

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about radiotherapy. There are certainly a lot of scare stories. In the early years, radiotherapy caused some quite severe side effects and we didn’t know an awful lot about those and how to manage them. Our treatments are much more tailor-made now to reduce or minimise radiotherapy reactions.

Macmillan cares very passionately about the patient experience and that sits in complete harmony with my own thoughts and feelings. I want to give patients the very best care and attention that I possibly can, and Macmillan helps me provide that care.