Chris Curtis and The Swallows Head & Neck Support Group

Head and neck cancer can affect almost anyone and recent rates have been on the rise due to many factors, such as the human papilloma virus. Head and neck cancer comes in the form of tumours that may develop in or around the mouth, nose, sinuses, throat and larynx.

Chris Curtis, a head and neck cancer survivor and the chairman of The Swallows Head & Neck Support Group, has made great strides to not only bring awareness to head and neck cancer but also to offer support to patients and carers.

Recently, Chris and his wife, Sharon, visited the Proton Therapy Center in Prague to learn more about proton therapy treatment for head and neck cancer and to help inform patients within their community about this state-of-the-art treatment. During their visit, they had the chance to meet with medical director and head and neck specialist Dr Jiří Kubeš, lead physicist Vladimír Vondráček, and current head and neck patients.

After the visit, we had the chance to interview Chris to gather more information about The Swallows, and here is what he had to say:

What drove you to start your charity, The Swallows?
“During my treatment, I needed to talk to another patient to help me understand my treatment and help me come to terms with my diagnosis of head and neck cancer. I could not find anyone so decided to use my past life skills and create my own network of patients to help each other and also drive awareness of this cancer.”

How has The Swallows helped change the awareness of head and neck cancer in the UK?
“We now collaborate with hospitals throughout the UK and across the world to offer patient and carers support 24 hours/7 days a week through various services from 24/7 telephone line to regular monthly meetings. The charity works with businesses as well as community organisations to help raise the awareness of head and neck cancer by supplying online presence, printed material, talks, screening programmes, and collaborations in awareness.”

How has the charity grown since first starting, what countries are you present in now?
“From when we started as a small support group in March 2012 and going full charity status in November 2012 with approximately 20 patients and carers as initial members to now supporting over 6,000 patients and carers. Being recognised by the Queen in the birthday honours list for the work we do in the voluntary sector with the ‘Queens Award’.”

What is your hope for the future of The Swallows and head and neck cancer?
“The hope for the charity in the future is to ensure the wherever a patient or carer is in the world, they will have access to patient/carer support at the point when they need it and in what form they need it. Also, to drive head and neck cancer awareness so it is known as much as the top 5 cancers.”

What do you think about proton therapy for head and neck cancer patients?
“Proton therapy is the next generation of treatment and should be available to all patients and not just those who can afford the treatment. The side effects should be better explained, and real-world data to help prove the outcome is needed.”

What is your impression from the visit to the Proton Therapy Center in Prague?
“My thoughts on the Proton Therapy Center is that the team are very professional and friendly and put the patient first. The centre is very slick, fresh, bright and welcoming. Prague is a beautiful city. My best compliment is that, god forbid I was diagnosed again and needed treatment, I would have no hesitation but to seek treatment from your team and the centre.”