Getting back on my feet after a rare thymoma diagnosis

Nick Farrow patient story.jpg

Nick's story

In November 2020, Nick Farrow was due to undergo surgery at Norwich Hospital, but in a tale with many twists and turns, he instead underwent robotic thoracic surgery at London Bridge Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK. Here, Nick shares his healthcare journey with us, and how fortunate he feels that he was able to benefit from the unique expertise of The London Bridge Thoracic Services team at London Bridge Hospital when he needed it most.

Back in 2019, Nick, aged 65 and living in North Norfolk, was experiencing troublesome flu-like symptoms (following a vaccination), which led him to consult with his GP. As he also described having a ‘rushing heart’, he was referred by his GP for an ECG.

Whilst his ECG results were normal, he was still experiencing worrying heart-related symptoms, so through his private medical insurance with Aviva, Nick was able to see a cardiologist, who referred him for a CT scan and also had a look at his lungs.

Understanding his treatment options

The results from these tests revealed that whilst his heart was working fine (apart from an arrhythmia which Nick was already aware of), there was something not quite right with his lungs and he was subsequently referred to a lung specialist. It was then, in October 2019 that he was told that a black spot had been found on his lungs – later confirmed as thymoma, cancer of the thymus gland – an almond-shaped gland which sits between the lungs, behind the sternum.

Nick added: “Not many people have even heard of the thymus gland - and since my diagnosis I have found out how rare this cancer is. Whilst it is a tiny gland, and the cancer was small, it was still worrying to receive the diagnosis.”

In the same appointment that Nick received his diagnosis, his treatment options were also discussed. His surgeon suggested a sternotomy to remove the tumour – surgery where access is through a large incision in the chest. He was told that he could take some time to consider his surgical options as this type of tumour is usually slow growing. His review was booked for six months later in March 2020, but the review got pushed back until June due to COVID-19. At this time, he was scheduled for repeat diagnostic tests and imaging.

A twist in the tale

In his next consultation with his surgeon in Norwich in June 2020, laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery was recommended for November. A few weeks prior to the operation at the end of October, Nick called a colleague to inform her of his upcoming surgery. On hearing about the tumour, Nick’s colleague mentioned that her husband, Dr Peter Harper, Consultant Oncologist at Leaders in Oncology Care, had a clinical interest in cancerous tumours of the lung. She passed the phone to Dr Harper who suggested the need for a PET/CT scan before he underwent any surgery –which Nick hadn’t had.

The very next day, a Saturday, Dr Harper called his colleague, Professor George Santis, Consultant Respiratory Physician at London Bridge Hospital, who scheduled a PET/CT scan for Nick at London Bridge Hospital on the Monday.

Rapid access to seamless care

Nick was amazed at how quickly things moved from there: “I had my PET/CT scan at 11.00am on Monday 26th October, followed by my consultation with Professor Santis at 2.40pm. He explained that he believed the best approach would be robotic thoracic surgery, especially given the small nature of my tumour and the dexterity and visibility that the robot could provide. I was then referred straight to Mr Tom Routledge, Consultant Thoracic Surgeon at London Bridge Hospital and had my appointment with him later that day at 5.40pm. This was then followed by blood tests at 6.30pm.

After all this, my robotic surgery was scheduled to take place at London Bridge Hospital two weeks later – allowing the appropriate amount of time to meet COVID-19 isolation guidance. I couldn’t believe how quickly everything was moving.”

The day of Nick's surgery

Nick came into London Bridge Hospital prior to his surgery on 10th November. Commenting on his time at the hospital, he adds: “I had such a wonderful experience. I saw my anaesthetist first thing in the morning and then following that, I asked if I could see the robot that my surgeon, Tom Routledge would be using, which they were more than happy to accommodate. I saw the arms that would hold the instruments and cameras, the console – everything. Going into surgery, I definitely felt more at ease knowing what the robot was capable of.”

Nick's surgery was a complete success, and he was moved to the intensive care unit for a day and a half where he was able to recover, before being moved once more to his own private room.

Discharged two days post-surgery with virtually no pain

Commenting on how he felt post-surgery, he added: “Once I returned to the ward and thought back, I found myself feeling quite emotional – it's been such a long journey. I have been so lucky to receive care at London Bridge Hospital and I couldn’t be happier for this sequence of events to have happened.

I was discharged two days after my surgery with very little pain, which is truly amazing. Everyone I met here was so lovely. I was asked on the hospital feedback form if I’d like to mention specific members of staff but there were just too many to name. Everyone, at every stage was exemplary. I know this might sound unusual, but I didn’t necessarily want to leave, for a least a couple more days. The standard of care, the room and food were all fantastic. I’m totally in awe of everyone at London Bridge Hospital, thank you so much for looking after me.”

Nick received the all clear (histology report) a week after his surgery. Mr Tom Routledge had completely removed the tumour and ensured all the margins around it were clear. Nick then had a chest X-ray and a consultation with Mr Routledge a month after the surgery for final sign off. All that is left to do is attend for an annual CT scan.

Three months later...

Nearly three months later, Nick reflected once more on his experience and had this to add: "On returning home I was able to carry out my office work and go for long walks. My incisions are small and have healed without obvious scarring and I have no internal or external pain, plus of course no cancer! The team at HCA UK have been available for any queries via a direct line. All in all, I feel very lucky to have had the correct diagnosis, the right type of operation and exemplary care!"

To find out more about the private cancer care we offer across the HCA UK network

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