Work that makes a difference
Mariam Kalsoom is a Lecturer in Therapeutic Radiography. During her time training and practicing as a radiographer, she's learnt just how important her role is.
I always knew I wanted to work for the NHS, but I also knew that I didn’t want to be a nurse because I did not like needles! I did a bit of research and went to visit a few different hospital departments before I came across radiotherapy. I loved the autonomous aspect of the role and how Therapeutic Radiographers play an integral role in treating cancer patients.
The mix of technical abilities and patient care was something that really appealed to me because I wanted a career that would challenge me but also allow me to support and care for patients every day.
I studied at BCU and trained at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire from 2005-2008. I then worked clinically for 15 years before starting at Birmingham City University as a Lecturer where I now support and train students to become Therapeutic Radiographers.
70% of breast cancer patients will need to have radiotherapy treatment. Therapeutic radiographers are also the only professionals trained to deliver radiotherapy treatment. Therefore, I have had the privilege of being responsible for the safe and accurate delivery of radiotherapy treatment for many patients over my time in clinical practice.
I specialised in my role and took on the role of Treatment Review Radiographer. A Review Radiographer is a Therapeutic Radiographer with extensive experience and expertise in the field of radiotherapy and the management of radiotherapy-related side effects. My primary role involved evaluating the physical and emotional needs of patients as well as providing support, guidance, and information on a wide array of issues.
During a patient’s treatment, they will have scheduled, regular consultations with their Review Radiographer. These sessions are designed to assess a patients response to treatment and to address any concerns or challenges they may be experiencing.
The COVID-19 lockdown measures and restrictions on hospital visits disrupted cancer screening efforts. I encountered a patient who had advanced breast cancer, a situation that could have been entirely preventable. However, due to social isolation and fear of COVID-19, she delayed seeking medical attention until her condition had deteriorated significantly. As a result, when she finally came for radiotherapy treatment, her condition was distressing, requiring daily support for wound care.
It can be emotionally distressing to see a patient go through this, but being able to provide supportive care as well as the treatment itself is an extremely privileged position to be in. Having a valuable impact on each patient we come across is so rewarding and fulfilling.
Interacting with breast cancer patients has deepened my understanding of the importance of empathy and compassion. Providing emotional support and a caring presence can make a significant difference in a patient's journey. Cancer care is not just about treating the disease; it involves addressing the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of a patient's life.
Knowing that you have made a lasting impact on each patient that you come across is truly the most rewarding part. I don’t see it as a job but as a privilege to be trusted by patients when they are at their most vulnerable.
This role carries significant responsibility, yet the camaraderie within a team striving for a common purpose develops wonderful connections. It always surprises people that radiotherapy departments are such uplifting and joyful environments, which can be attributed to the close bonds and deep rapport we establish with our patients.
I advise all my students, family, and friends to be breast aware. It is important to check yourself regularly and know what is normal for you so that you can recognise any unusual changes and seek help immediately.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme has produced a 5-point plan for being breast-aware:
- Know what's normal for you.
- Look at your breasts and feel them.
- Know what changes to look for.
- Report any changes to a GP without delay.
- Attend routine screening if you're aged 50 to 70.
Finally, never be afraid to ask questions and always ask for help. If there is anything you are ever unsure about or if you have any anxieties, please reach out and ask for advice either via your GP or Macmillan Cancer Support.