By Liz Darlison, Meso UK

The uncertainties we faced in the spring of last year, in terms of the effect of COVID on cancer patients, the treatment they were receiving and cancer patient responses to being infected with COVID has, to a sufficient extent, been answered. We now have the confidence to continue to support patients through investigations, treatment and care.

There are of course unbelievable challenges; it’s hard to maintain therapeutic relationships remotely and even when we are face to face it is at a distance, without touch and behind a mask. Newly diagnosed patients have not been able to build up those strong, caring, respectful bonds in the same way as those diagnosed pre-covid. It doesn’t matter how warm, attentive, expert and caring I try to be over the phone, it doesn’t compare at all to how things should be. Carers are rarely able to accompany their loved ones and so opportunities are very limited for them to ask questions and get to know the team entrusted with their loved one’s care.

I have continually reminded myself over the last 10 months, that the lack of certainty and loss of control we all experience because of COVID is something cancer patients live with all the time; especially our Mesothelioma patients who have limited options available to them.

All the things we took for granted, being able to work, socialise, holiday and more have disappeared; this is par for the course for our patients and we can all now understand that, perhaps a little better.

It feels like the UK is currently in the ‘eye of the COVID storm’. All that we learnt last year is heightened only this time the NHS is dealing with usual winter pressures, the staff are tired, they’re experiencing their own family health concerns and we are trying to roll out the biggest vaccination program of all time. Thankfully for our mesothelioma patients (and all cancer patients) there is now a genuine desire, and an expectation from the NHS, to keep cancer services running as near to normal as possible.

Liz Darlison, Bio..

Liz has enjoyed over 36 years of clinical practice at the University Hospitals of Leicester, 21 of them in thoracic oncology. Currently she is a Consultant Nurse at UHL and is also CEO at Mesothelioma UK, the national charity for Mesothelioma.

Liz’s interests within thoracic oncology have always focused on developing the nursing contribution, within the multidisciplinary team, to improve outcomes but also the patient and carer experience across the whole cancer pathway.

Clinically Liz is a core member of the Leicester Thoracic Oncology Multi-disciplinary Team who provide a comprehensive mesothelioma management service to over 100 patients per year.

To meet demand locally and nationally Liz developed an interest in Mesothelioma which resulted in her being the founder of Mesothelioma UK. This national charity was initially hosted by the University Hospitals of Leicester. It has established itself as an essential part of the UK Mesothelioma landscape as a centre of excellence providing specialist information, support and education. The Charity has an annual income of over £1.3m which it uses to fund: – 30 Clinical Nurse Specialist in NHS hospitals around the UK, comprehensive national audit, a dedicated research center at the University of Sheffield, annual research grants and provide an extensive range of information, support and education resources.

Liz has held several Honorary university positions, is very active in terms of research, promoting nursing as a career and in pre and post graduate education. Liz’s commitment and passion of clinical trials and equitable access to them resulted in her being appointed as the clinical lead for Division 1 (Cancer) in the East Midlands Clinical Research Network.

Liz has served 10 years as a committee member (2 years as chair) for al Lung Cancer Forum Nursing UK and 14 years on the British Thoracic Oncology Group steering committee. She has been an active member of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer and is proud to be a founding member of the International Thoracic Oncology Nursing Forum.

Liz has individually, and joint authored a number of publications about lung cancer and mesothelioma and gives up to 25 lectures a year at regional, national and international meetings.

Liz’s contribution has been recognised through several awards. Nurse peers awarded Liz Cancer Nurse Leader of the Year in 2007 and the British Thoracic Oncology Group awarded her a 10 Year Achievement Award in 2012. In HRH Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday honours list in June 2019 Liz was invited to become a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in recognition of her services to patients and cancer research.