Carolyn Faulkner, the very first Macmillan Head and Neck Cancer Nurse Specialist (CNS) appointed in Wales, is set to retire after a 42-year nursing career.
Carolyn from Newcastle Emlyn has been a Macmillan professional for 21 years and works for Swansea Bay University Health Board at the Maxillofacial Unit in Morriston Hospital in Swansea.
Carolyn was the very first Macmillan Head and Neck Cancer Nurse Specialist in Wales, which is an innovative leadership role created specifically to improve the quality and experience of care for patients dealing with the unique physical, practical and emotional challenges of a head and neck cancer diagnosis.
Carolyn, who spent her early nursing years working in St Lawrence Hospital in Chepstow before moving to Morriston Hospital, worked on plastic surgery wards, and it was her early experience in these wards that drove Carolyn to look at the support she could give to people who had undergone head and neck surgery. Reflecting on her early career, Carolyn said: “We wondered what support our patients undergoing radical head and neck surgery were getting in the community, and as ward staff we could see how difficult it was for our patients. I felt that those with head and neck cancers didn’t have a voice and this needed to change.”
With more than 40 years of nursing experience, Carolyn is pleased that she has seen a change in people’s perceptions and reactions to cancer. Speaking about the change in the way people view cancer, Carolyn said: “People used to hide away from the word cancer, saying it quietly as if it was shameful, and that there would be no successful outcomes, as everyone they could recall had died. Thankfully, we are in times when more people are living after a cancer diagnosis.”
From her early childhood, Carolyn knew that she wanted to be a nurse. Speaking about this early ambition, she said” I always wanted to be a nurse, as a child had a dress-up costume, and I had to wear it every day.”
With a nursing career spanning four decades Carolyn keenly notes the positive outcomes that her nursing career has given her. Carolyn said: “The best parts about being a Macmillan nurse are being appreciated by my patients, their families and colleagues for the job that you do. Also, to be part of a team where everyone’s opinion is appreciated and that we have one aim to ensure we do our best.”
Since becoming a Macmillan professional, Carolyn has also fundraised for Macmillan, often teaming up with her daughter Bethan to raise money for the cancer charity. The mother and daughter teamed up again, but professionally, when Carolyn’s daughter Bethan Faulkner, a dental nurse, came to work with head and neck patients at Morriston Hospital.
Carolyn’s final year as a Macmillan nurse has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although head and neck cancer services continue to run from Morriston Hospital, and people are still being encouraged to contact their GP if they have any concerns about signs and symptoms of cancer, Carolyn’s own health condition has meant she has had to shield. She has however continued to support her patients by phone. Speaking about the impact of the pandemic, she said, ”This is not how I would have seen forty-two and a half years in the NHS conclude but I do feel I have been able to contribute to this last year undertaking telephone clinics and by trying to ensure our patients knew we were still there if needed.”
The pandemic has meant that people with cancer symptoms are not making initial appointments with their GPs. This is particularly true of head and neck cancers, and barriers to detection have increased because fewer people have attended a regular dental check-up over the past year. The result is that people have lost an opportunity for their dentist to potentially detect the early symptoms of oral cancer.
The earlier cancer is diagnosed then the quicker treatment can begin, and Carolyn is keen to stress that people who think they have signs and symptoms of cancer to get an appointment with their GP. She said:” I think everyone should get to know their own body and listen to what it tells you. If you are concerned that something isn’t right seek guidance – get it checked out if something is wrong and you get diagnosed early there is a far higher chance of cure. Also don’t be fobbed off if someone doesn’t seem to be listening try again.”
Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships in Wales said:”On behalf of everyone at Macmillan we would like to wish Carolyn the very best for a long and happy retirement. Forty-two years in nursing is an amazing achievement. Carolyn should be immensely proud of her career and will be missed by her colleagues and patients alike.
“Carolyn has been at the forefront of developing the Head and Neck Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist role in Wales, as well as being a successful fundraiser for our charity. She’ll be very much missed but we wish all the very best with this new chapter in her life.”