Helping stop cancer before it develops

Volunteers at The Swallows shop in St Annes

Volunteers at The Swallows shop in St Annes

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The Fylde’s head and neck cancer charity is spearheading a campaign to have all boys vaccinated against a cancer-causing virus.

The Swallows is pushing for the NHS to vaccinate boys against the human papilloma virus (HPV) which, although is very common and can go away on its own, can also become very serious and lead to cancer.

Currently, all 12 and 13-year-old girls are offered the vaccine as it can prevent cervical cancer in later life.

But boys are not offered the treatment, even though HPV can also lead to cancer of the mouth and throat.

Chris Curtis, chairman of The Swallows, said: “In two years’ time, four in every six boys will have HPV, and there will be an epidemic of throat and neck cancer in Lancashire and South Cumbria.

“This is a massive issue and yet we’re not vaccinating our boys.

“In America and Australia they treat their boys and girls, but we’re not doing it because of the cost.

“If we start vaccinating our boys now, we’re not going to see the results for 50 years – there’s no quick fix but it’s an important issue and we need to keep banging the drum in the hope that someone will listen.”
Mr Curtis, who is a neck cancer survivor, said parents could request their sons were given the treatment, but one course costs £350. If it was offered on the NHS it would cost £15.

The Swallows has recently opened its new shop and charity base, the Michael Stenhouse Centre, at The Crescent, St Annes.

It offers support and advice to people suffering head and neck cancer across Lancashire and South Cumbria, and currently has 1,500 members.

Mr Curtis said 90 per cent of the members were male aged 45 plus.

Before moving to the St Annes base, the charity had a hub at Blackpool Business Park on Amy Johnson Way, Squires Gate in South Shore.

“The new centre is going great, we’re very very busy,” he said.

“It’s great to see. Even though we’re head and neck specialists, we are here for anyone with any form of cancer who feels they could use our support.”

The charity was set up by Mr Curtis and his friend Michael Stenhouse.

The pair met during their treatment for neck cancer.

Mr Curtis, 55, of Alderley Avenue, Squires Gate, said: “I was diagnosed in May 2011 after I found a lump on the side of my neck. My doctor said it probably wasn’t cancer, but two weeks later I was told it was throat cancer.

“I had a tumour at the back of my throat and tongue, and I was two weeks away from it being inoperable it was that big.

“In my neck I had a secondary cancer.”

Mr Curtis had 42 days of radiotherapy, one full day of chemotherapy every week for six weeks and a neck dissection to take out the secondary cancer and lymph glands.

The following January another secondary cancer was removed from his neck and he had to go through the treatment again.

He has lost a total of 12 stones since his diagnosis.

“I am one of the lucky ones,” he said.

“I am in recovery and remission, but I have lost some very good friends along the way.

“I never worried about getting throat and neck cancer – I didn’t smoke or drink. Looking back I now realise I had developed a husky voice and was having trouble swallowing, but I put that down to age.”

Mr Stenhouse, 50, of Poulton, was diagnosed with the same cancer as Mr Curtis at around the same time.

Mr Curtis added: “We had the same journey, but he didn’t make it.

“I still to this day can’t understand how we can both be diagnosed with the same cancer, and have the same treatment when one lives and the other dies. For me, I believe that because I have survived it means I have a job to do – I have to make a difference.”

While they were going through their treatment, Mr Curtis and Mr Stenhouse attended a support group which was on the brink of closure.

Together, they were able to turn it round into what is now The Swallows.

Mr Curtis said: “We officially launched in March 2012, and had 60 people at our first meeting.”
Everyone who is diagnosed with head and neck cancer is told about The Swallows at a time when nurses and specialists think is appropriate.

Mr Curtis added: “As well as the centre and support group, we have a 24-hour support line which is manned by someone who has experienced cancer.

“We get a lot of calls from patients who have been discharged from hospital after their diagnosis and have started to worry once they are at home. They want to speak to someone who has been through what they are going through, and it’s very important to us that we can provide that.

“The Swallows is run and supported by like-minded people, whether they have had head and neck cancer themselves or a close relative with the disease.”

For details on The Swallows, visit www.theswallows.org.uk.