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Ruairi Quinn is right to say sympathy can be as important as science in hospitals. As a cancer patient myself, I should know

When Ruairi Quinn stood up in the Dail last week during a discussion on the Bill which provides for the dissolution of the cancer treatment at St Luke's Hospital and the transfer of its cancer care services to St James's Hospital, he spoke about the extraordinary sense of fear that flooded through him after he received his own cancer diagnosis five years ago.

He was diagnosed in Tallaght Hospital but his screening for secondary cancer took place in St Luke's.

"Going to St Luke's was like going on a religious retreat. It was not going to the Accident and Emergency in St James's," he said. He then went on to warn that the best architecture in the world would not transform St James's into a place which would provide the sort of calm existing in St Luke's.

Two years ago, my father was treated as a public patient in St James's Hospital and our family will always be grateful for the services and staff of this fine, cutting edge facility.

Thankfully, his condition wasn't life threatening and he continues to be an outpatient there. But if you ask him about his overriding memories of his first visit, he will mention the size and scale of the hospital, the hurried staff, the noise and confusion of A&E and the clatter of the Luas which runs through the campus every five minutes, disgorging patients and visitors alike.

St James's is a veritable beast of hospital, a city within a city that is so big it encompasses a rat run between James Street and Rialto.

This is not to denigrate it, because it is exactly the type of facility that is required in a large city.

However, I completely understand where Ruairi Quinn is coming from when he expresses his concern for cancer patients when a facility like St Luke's is to close.

Four months ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer after I had been referred to a doctor in the Hermitage Clinic with a lump under my arm. Like Ruairi, when I was told I had cancer, I too was overcome with fear and I had a complete breakdown in my mental ability to comprehend that I actually had this disease. Realising that I had to be screened for secondaries only increased my panic levels and I was unable to eat, sleep or eat or even think straight as I worried about the outcome.

I could have gone to one of the larger hospitals for screening but I felt unable to cope with the pressure of what this would entail for my mental state at the time. Instead, we dipped into our savings and opted to pay for screening in the Hermitage just so I could maintain some sort of equilibrium.

I don't regret it. My nerves were stretched to breaking point as I waited for my scans but I didn't have the added stress of traffic, parking problems or sense of the hurried rush of a bigger hospital.

At one stage, sensing my absolute fear, a passing nurse sat beside me and held my hand.

Her sensitivity meant everything to me at such a vulnerable time.

In St Luke's, this is part and parcel of the treatment. Women and men that I have met during my cancer care speak with reverence of the attention they have received at St Luke's which, they say, is above anything they would receive in a general hospital. Yes, they have the science, but it is their holistic and deeply personal approach, impossible to recreate in a large hospital, that enables their cancer patients to feel a sense peace and calm when they need it most.

I'm sure that the bean counters have already put a value on the St Luke's site but absolutely nobody can put a value on the serenity and security that is given to cancer patients there. It is a tragedy that this will be lost.


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