'Life-saving' mobile cancer unit helps more than 1,000 people in first year

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating it's first anniversary.

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating it's first anniversary. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

More than a thousand people have seen stressful hospital trips for cancer treatment eliminated in the past year by a mobile cancer care unit.

Nestled inside a Mercedes Antos lorry, Amara tours the county four days a week delivering life-saving cancer treatments to up four patients at a time, preventing patients with long round-trips to the hospital from visiting for their chemotherapy.

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating it's first anniversary.. John Gillo who's wife Am

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating its first anniversary. John Gillo whose wife Amara gave her name to the unit after she died from ovarian cancer in 2019. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Since its launch a year ago, the unit has treated more than 1,000 people on its visits to supermarket car parks in Fakenham, Attleborough, Beccles and Dereham.

It is run as a partnership between Hope for Tomorrow and the NNUH hospital charity, with staff from the hospital's Weybourne suite driven around the county by former firefighter Jack Russell.

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating it's first anniversary. Chief Executive Sam Higgi

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating its first anniversary. NNUH chief executive Sam Higginson (right) with John Gillo and Emma Bowles from Hope for Tomorrow - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Mr Russell said: "It fills me with a great deal of pride to help so many people  - we get to know the patients and they get to know me.

"After I retired as a firefighter I worked as a black cab driver for a while and I couldn't stand working on my own - now I love being part of a team again and knowing that I am making a difference."

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating its first anniversary.

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating its first anniversary. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Ruth Lightening, deputy sister of the Weybourne Day Unit, who works on Amara, said: "It is so amazing to hear all the great feedback we have had from patients about how much of a difference it has made.

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"Patients have told me how stressful they'd find driving in - how they'd lose a whole day coming to hospital and the worry that it caused.

"They already have enough to worry about as it is."

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating it's first anniversary.. John Gillo who's wife Am

Amara the NNUH's mobile cancer unit is celebrating it's first anniversary.. John Gillo who's wife Amara gave her name to the unit after she died from ovarian cancer in 2019. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Tina Seymour, chief executive for Hope for Tomorrow, said: “We are really proud to have been able to provide a Mobile Cancer Care Unit to NNUH and to enable their amazing team to take their cancer care into the heart of their communities. We look forward to working with them for many years to continue this incredible service.”

The unit was donated by the Mark Master Masons of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire and named after the wife of 73-year-old mason John Gillo.

He said: "She would have been delighted to know something named after her has made such a difference."

'A real life-saver'

Ann Leigh, who lives near Holt, has been using a Hope for Tomorrow mobile cancer care unit in Fakenham.

Ann Leigh, who lives near Holt, has been using a Hope for Tomorrow mobile cancer care unit in Fakenham. - Credit: Supplied by Hope for Tomorrow

Ann Leigh, from Swanton Novers, near Holt, was treated for around nine months on the unit in Fakenham and described it as "a real life-saver".

Previously, she was required to make a 50-mile round trip to receive her treatment at the hospital, a trip she grew to dread.

She said: "When you are already weakened by the treatment it made things even more difficult - I would lose sleep the night before worrying about having to make the journey.

"Fakenham though was so much easier and having the unit took away so much of the hassle and anxiety.

"The staff were always really lovely and I got to know the driver really well too."

The 77-year-old is now able to receive her treatment in Cromer, but said she remains eternally grateful to the impact the mobile unit had for her.

She added: "Suddenly, instead of my treatment being an ordeal it had become 'no big deal' at all. I felt like I was just popping down the road, as if I were just going down the shops."