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Tameside woman who’s had cancer for 35 years thanks doctors for ‘giving her hope’

Irene North was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, and has been under the care of The Christie in Manchester ever since.

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 2nd August 2022

A Tameside woman who has been diagnosed with five different types of cancer in the past 35 years has thanked the doctors and researchers who have “given her hope”.

71-year-old Irene North was first diagnosed with breast cancer back in 1987, and has been under the care of The Christie in Manchester ever since.

The retired NHS phlebotomist – who has a daughter, two sons, and six grandchildren – said she was most worried about her family when she was first diagnosed, because her mum had died of cancer at the age of 41 when Irene was just six years old.

“Because mum died so young, it was always at the back of my mind that I might get cancer,” Irene admitted.

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Over the past three and half decades, not only has Irene been diagnosed with breast cancer and secondary breast cancer, but she has also been treated for cervical cancer, skin cancer, and a routine scan in 2014 detected the very early stages of pancreatic cancer – which was successfully treated without her requiring major surgery.

Following treatment during 1987 and 1988, Irene was declared cancer free.

Along with her husband Jack, Irene threw herself into fundraising for cancer-related causes, and also helped to set up the local Withington/Christie breast cancer care group.

Now, Irene has decided to pay tribute to the doctors and researchers who have “given her hope” throughout her cancer journey, explaining: “When I first got cancer, I was terrified.

“I was told I needed to go to The Christie and back then, just the name of the hospital felt like a death sentence… [but] once I was through the door and started to talk to people, I realised that it wasn’t the place I or my family feared.

“The staff are so caring and compassionate, and their expertise is always plain to see.”

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Irene North was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, and has been under the care of The Christie ever since / Credit: The Christie NHS Foundation Trust

Two of the doctors at The Christie that Irene has paid a special thank you to is father and son consultants, Tony and Sasha Howell.

“Tony and I became friends, and he supported the [Withington/Christie breast cancer care group] frequently,” said Irene. “He came along to talk to us as cancer patients about the challenges and developments of breast cancer treatments [and] over the years, I got to know most of the breast care team at The Christie and many of them joined us to share their expertise with the group.”

Read more: Manchester mum only given months to live gets all-clear after breast cancer drug trial

She continued: “In 2008, I walked through the door into a consulting room with my daughter Tracy and was surprised to see a spitting image of Tony Howell. It was surreal. Sacha explained that Tony was his dad.

“They are both very similar in how they treat patients. They both really listen to what you have to say, and I always felt like they had my best interests at heart.”

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Irene admits that coping with cancer is “hard” and living with it for 35 years has been tough, but she says she feels “very lucky” that many of the cancer treatments she has been given over the years have worked for longer than anticipated.

“The doctors have helped me maintain hope [and] that’s why the work The Christie does to discover new treatments is so important for patients like me,” said Irene.

Irene has also benefited from having some of her care delivered at home via The Christie outreach team.

“A lot of my treatment can be given by The Christie staff in local health facilities or even in the comfort of my own home with the nurses coming to me [and] that has made a huge difference to me, particularly during the pandemic and I’m very grateful.

“This team is another example of the wonderful work The Christie does.”

Featured Image – The Christie