Men’s Health Awareness Month: how cancer shaped me and the services we deliver | #TeamBartsHealth blogs

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Men’s Health Awareness Month: how cancer shaped me and the services we deliver

Will Brunt receiving treatment for cancer

November is Men's Health Awareness Month. Known as 'Movember', it focuses on raising awareness for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and other men's health issues. William Brunt, divisional manager for the Barts Cancer Centre, reflects on how his own cancer journey has shaped him, and how we can use patient experiences to shape and improve the care we provide as healthcare leaders.

10 years ago, I moved to London to work at The Royal London Hospital and enjoy everything our capital city had to offer. Just a few months later I found myself having to understand the ‘patient experience’ from the point of view we all hope we never will. I found a lump, as many young men do, and thankfully in most cases these end up being nothing sinister. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case for me. I was referred for an ultrasound scan but was told not to worry by my primary care professional. I really had to push for the referral and didn’t find it easy to navigate the system. Our NHS two-week-wait and Faster Diagnostics Standards are put into a completely new context when you’re the one waiting – feeling more like two lifetimes.

Following the scan, being told quite matter-of-fact by the consultant, “what you’re seeing there on the screen is a tumour and we’re going to have to act quickly” was a big moment in my life, desperately trying to take in all the information that followed and process what I’d just heard. I left the clinic to sit on a nearby bench to collect my thoughts. I had been expecting to have nothing to worry about so was alone, my parents abroad and my girlfriend in another city, but was joined by a nurse, introducing herself as Jen. Jen had just finished another clinic and was walking to her car, but took the time to sit with me and talk through the news I’d just received. The compassion of a nurse from a different clinic, having just finished a busy day of work, typified the values we are blessed with across our NHS workforce.

Surgery and chemotherapy

CT scans, MRIs, countless blood tests and clinic appointments made for a whirlwind few weeks, feeling like existing in a parallel universe wondering how to tell people, when to tell people and what to tell people- all while awaiting guidance and answers to the questions racing through my mind: Is this curable? Has the cancer spread? What happens next? Was I going to be okay?

I had surgery at Kingston Hospital and the subsequent histology determined I would need chemotherapy, owing to the nature of the cancer found. My consultant informed me that the particular type of cancer meant even small delays to me finding the lump, and acting on it, would have likely meant very different outcomes. It was a sobering thought that I still reflect on, especially given a recent Movember study of men in the most at-risk age group for testicular cancer (18-34), showing that 62% don’t even know how to perform self-examination.

I received chemotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital, my chemotherapy nurses all fantastic professionally and kind beyond measure. I met a lot of cancer patients during my time at the hospital and was inspired by the attitudes towards their cancer and their personal battle, no matter how promising outcomes were likely to be. I was referred to some incredible support teams who provided dietary, financial, and psychological advice and I was always able to tie in a visit to these teams whenever receiving treatment or a follow-up appointment.

Reflecting on how fortunate we are to have a Maggie’s Centre on site here at St Bartholomew's, the learning from my experience is that the support and services outside of the clinical setting, working in parallel, were invaluable. We should make every effort to strengthen partnerships and enhance the holistic cancer care we provide at the St Bartholomew’s site. Will Brunt receiving treatment for cancer


After receiving the news that the treatments had worked and that I was in remission, I entered six years of surveillance. I found this period particularly challenging. Throughout the diagnosis, treatment and initial recovery I had a clear sense of purpose and felt driven to tackle each step as it came and ‘win the battles’. It was empowering and provided some of the happiest feelings of my life amongst some of the darkest days.

What I’d best describe as a cloudy or foggy period followed. A lot of my ambitions, goals or next steps in life didn’t feel particularly relevant anymore. I stopped accessing services and support outside of the regular scans, blood tests and clinics and thought I’d be okay and snap out of whatever I was feeling. I didn’t feel like I wanted to burden services given the notion that I was ‘cured’. It wasn’t until years later when I accessed psychological support that I understood the complexity of surviving cancer. I’d missed a critical part of my recovery – processing what I’d been through and adjusting to a different take on life. Something switched following these sessions and I began to love life, the simple things as much as the amazing things. I’d always wanted to be a Divemaster, so I learned. I’d always wanted to be a racing driver, so I got my racing license and raced. I’d always been fascinated by the challenge of becoming an Ironman finisher, and this year I completed my third. I’ve also earned the privilege of being a leader within the Barts Cancer Centre, working alongside and leading the extraordinary teams and services.

I’m excited to draw from my own experiences as well as the wealth of patient experiences being lived every day at St Bartholomew’s, as we strive to be a truly excellent centre for treating and supporting our cancer patients.

Please join me in raising awareness and fundraising this Movember:

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