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Cancer patient owes life to car crash

By WMNlynbarton  |  Posted: December 09, 2013

Peter Telling, who owes his cancer diagnosis to a car crash

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A retired policeman says he’s owes his life to a car accident after treatment for a suspected broken neck revealed he was in fact suffering from cancer.

Peter Telling and his wife Wendy were trapped in their car after it went off the road following a collision with a van on the outskirts of Helston in February.

After being cut free from his car and taken to the Royal Cornwall Hospital for treatment, the 73 year-old’s x-ray revealed he had a broken sternum, and also a shadow on his lung.

At first, Mr Telling, from Falmouth, thought there was nothing to worry about as he was a picture of health.

“There is no treatment for a broken sternum, only rest,” said the father-of-two and grandfather-of-six.

“They told me they’d send my x-rays to my doctor and I should give him a call in a couple of days. In fact he called me.”

Mr Telling’s GP arranged for a scan at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance a few days later and just a week after that he had an appointment to see a cancer specialist at Truro.

“I was told I had cancer on my right lung. It was a shock because I had no symptoms,” he said.

“There was no weight loss, no cough, no shortness of breath and I used to go for long walks every day. I had once smoked but not for 30 years.

“I had been a policeman for 30 years with Cornwall Constabulary working in Liskeard, Looe, Fowey, Mawnan Smith and Falmouth so I hadn’t done industrial work which could have put me in contact with high risk substances.”

Mr Telling was told his cancer was unusual in that it was at the top of the lung and this meant surgery wasn’t an option.

He was sent for a lung biopsy and then met clinical oncology consultant Toby Talbot.

He said: “Toby is an absolutely fantastic man. He told us all about the cancer, what the biopsy had shown and what he was going to do. He was quite confident he could do something for me which was very reassuring to hear because you do think ‘that’s it’ when you hear the big C word.”

Mr Telling was to be the first lung cancer patient to use the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust’s new TrueBeam Linear Accelerator or Linac as it is known.

The technology allows doctors to deliver radiotherapy with unparalleled speed and accuracy and ensures patients receive state-of-the-art treatment for their cancer.

“Toby was quite confident and clearly delighted with the new machine, just so proud of it,” said Mr Telling.

“He said his plan was for me to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy at the same time.”

Before his treatment started, he was sent to Plymouth for a Positron Emission Tomography scan to see if the cancer was elsewhere in his body and was relieved to be told it had not spread.

“As soon as I returned from Plymouth there was a phone call telling me to come into Lowen Ward to start my treatment. It did all hit me then. It really is the fear of the unknown. It was a case of ‘why are they rushing me so quickly?’ You think it must be very bad. But Toby came to the ward and settled me down and explained it all,” said Mr Telling.

He endured the treatment, which included 33 continuous days of radiotherapy on the new machine and was full of praise for Dr Talbot and lung cancer nurse specialist Paul Kneller.

Mr Telling finished his treatment in June and after a follow-up has been told that so far things are looking good and the cancer has shrunk considerably.

He said: “I feel quite well and fortunately we have been told my cancer is the slow growing kind which is good. I feel very fortunate and I am just so grateful.”

Mr Telling was supported throughout his treatment by his family, including his daughter-in-law Liz, who is a radiographer at the hospital.

He was keen to praise the care and treatment he received.

“Until it happens to you, you just don’t realise the numbers of people being treated for cancer in Cornwall,” he said.

Looking back, Mrs Telling said the accident proved to be a life saver.

“It was the best accident we have ever had. My cousin told Peter that when he is better he should have a party and invite the van driver to thank him!”

Dr Talbot agreed: “Peter was indeed lucky to have his lung cancer picked up at a stage where potentially curative treatment could be given. The majority of lung cancer patients have progressed too far by the time they seek treatment.

“Peter had already passed the point where surgery was possible but he could still be treated with radiotherapy. Using chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy increases the chances of cure but also very much increase the side effects as Peter found.

“What has been different in Peter’s case is the new radiotherapy machine, the TrueBeam linear accelerator. This machine allows extremely accurate delivery of treatment meaning we can be absolutely sure where the radiation is going. Once a patient is on the treatment couch, a type of CT scan is performed and compared with the original planning scan on which all of the calculations are performed (this is how we know how much radiation to shine at which parts of the body) and any errors in patient position are detected and adjusted for.

“We are now making adjustments of fractions of a millimetre – this is unprecedented accuracy and means the areas we treat can be smaller, side effects are less and success rates higher.”

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