Think zebra not horse

Most people in life know someone with cancer. Or are knowledgable about signs or symptoms of some kind of cancer. However the rarer less known conditions need the help of Doctors, writers, patients, etc to promote awareness to get their name out there and help others know what to look for. “Doctors are taught ‘when you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras,’ meaning a doctor should first think about what is a more common and potentially more likely—diagnosis. In oncology zebras have to be thought about. If a clinician isn’t as familiar with rare conditions, they may spend too much time looking for the proverbial horses. One such rare disease is Neuroendocrine Cancer and carcinoid syndrome. November 10th is Net Cancer Day. For the patient and the diagnosis it is all so important for the doctor in the big important Think zebra not horse.

Getting a diagnosis of Net Cancer can be difficult. It often goes misdiagnosed and the diagnosis is delayed and very often a person is told they have the cancer once it has spread to other organs and is incurable.

Living with Nets and carcinoid syndrome isn’t always easy. There are days it can really take over your life and just getting out of bed is a real struggle. However, there are great treatments and support networks out there to help you on your way. Looking after your body, eating the right things, meeting up with people and talking can all help in your cancer journey. I certainly know meeting up with likeminded people from The Ann Edgar Charitable Trust and sharing experiences has been a lifesaver. Making super friends along the way, the only down side is losing some dear ones to this damn condition.

On this eve of Net Cancer Day I think of the amazing buddies I have made since the day I was told I had carcinoid syndrome. I keep up with and chat to friends we share what’s going on in our medical life. I have lost and miss some lovely zebra, including Ann, Didi, Pam, Janny, Margaret, Becky, Norman, Linda. Celebrity zebra have included Audrey Hepburn, Steve Jobs, Aretha Franklin.

Audrey Hepburn’s son did a newspaper interview – you can view it HERE

Common symptoms of NETs include:

  • Flushing (redness, warmth) in the face or neck without sweating.
  • Diarrhea, including at nighttime.
  • Shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat/palpitations.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Fatigue, weakness.
  • Abdominal pain, cramping, feeling of fullness.
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss.
  • Wheezing, coughing

The symptoms of a neuroendocrine tumour depend on where in the body it is and what hormones it produces.

Diagnosing neuroendocrine tumours

Many tests can be used to diagnose neuroendocrine tumours, including blood tests, urine tests, scans and a biopsy  (where a small tissue sample is taken for closer examination).

Types of scans used include:

Treating Net Cancer and Carcinoid Syndrome

Every patient has their treatment plan tailor-made for them. No one person is exactly the same. They may have the same germ cell. Could have been diagnosed with almost literally the same diagnosis – it does not mean the treatment will be the same. All our bodies react differently, we give off different hormones, etc. And to be honest we may not have the same attitude to the consultants conversation in the room.

Treatments Include:

For some people surgery is an option.

Somatostatin Analogues may be used to help control the secretion of hormones if abnormal levels are being produced

Embolisation Treatment that blocks the blood supply using chemotherapy, radiotherapy or radiofrequency ablation

Treatments used for some Inoperable and metastatic cancer:

Everolimus is taken as a tablet, sunitinib is taken as a capsule and lutetium is given into a vein.

Let’s Talk About Nets

10th November Approaching……

For Me November has always been a fairly memorable month. I have a brother with a birthday at the beginning of the month and a sister with a birthday at the end of the month. The last day of the November we celebrate the Patron of our country – St Andrews Day. Guy Fawkes night; 5th November is a special night on our calendar – Steve and I got engaged in 1984, what a wonderful night that was. Fireworks at my parents and then a trip to Edinburgh with Steve and some university friends.

All of these dates are still in the diary, special to me, with some others added. And now there is one anniversary date that is noted worldwide. The date is November 10th every year. Its NET Cancer Day. Aiming at promoting awareness. Folks all over the world raise awareness in different ways.

Me personally, I have organised, with the help of friends, a tea party and a music night. Both events were on the weekend of the NET Cancer Day and raised money for The Ann Edgar Charitable Trust. Three years ago I did some something myself, just simply smiled every day for 21 days and asked folks to donate something, even if it was a penny. My consultant, Prof Mark Strachan, the fantastic late Linda Story and myself did a radio interview, fairly lengthy – raising awareness two years ago. Many people have coffee days – lets talk about nets.

This year, 2019 – November 2019 is a Sunday and I’m looking forward to going to The NET Forum organised by The Ann Edgar Charitable Trust in Edinburgh. There will be talks on offer from Net Specialists; Consultant, oncologist, Net Nurse. Charity Trustees. Information will include PRRT Information, Patient and Carer Support, whats New in Nets?, Relaxation.

Forums allow others to get together, whether its other patients, their family or friends, health professionals and people generally interested in finding out about NET Cancer. You get a chance to ask questions about symptoms, treatments, etc, and meet other people with the same rare condition. Its absolutely wonderful that health professionals are willing to give up their Sunday to share this time with us folks that want to go to the forum. Its great to see passion in the doctors and nurses outside the hospital. It makes me very proud and confident in our NHS.

For anyone thats interested in finding out more about The Ann Edgar Trust. You can look them up, at http://www.taect.scot They really are a good support network, our monthly net natter meet ups, chat on facebook. And at times we get together and do something together outwith the meeting. It really does help turn that frown upside down.