Cancer in a time of Covid
I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in early 2020 and was recovering from surgery just before lockdown.
The coronavirus crisis has affected all aspects of medical care, including for Cancer. I was due my first oncology appointment one week after the Country was told to stay at home to save lives. There was no option for me in this case. I wondered if my appointment would be virtual, but I needed to attend in person.
I was telephoned beforehand to ensure I attended the appointment on my own. Previously my partner had always been at my side listening and hearing what the Doctor and nurses had to say, often quietly reminding me of important information that I just hadn’t taken in. This was now not to be.
The QEII hospital is normally busy, full of purpose and vibrant. However, it was eerily quiet on my appointment day. The area where people normally queue to have their bloods taken was deserted as I walked by, and, apart from one other woman I was the only person waiting. The reception had markers on the floor to show you how far back to stand when checking in for your appointment. When it was time for my appointment, the oncologist was wearing a mask for his and my safety.
Covid was already changing how I was to be treated. One of my test results which determines whether I was to have Chemotherapy, (three other tests had come back borderline), hadn’t been received because of a delay due to Covid testing. In any case Chemotherapy wasn’t advisable in this current climate. I was to have radiotherapy. This treatment was now to be one week only (to limit the time in hospital) rather than three weeks. I was told that this treatment option was going to come into force later in the year, but had been brought in early due to Coronavirus.
Mount Vernon hospital, a 40 minute drive, was where I attended my radiotherapy appointments; again I was asked to attend all appointments on my own. I drove to the hospital via the M25, a journey where normally a traffic jam was common place, was bizarrely quiet.
The hospital has introduced a system to ensure minimal time is spent in the actual hospital itself. When you arrive for your appointment, you check in by telephoning from your car. This is where you wait until you receive a phone call to say the radiographer’s are ready and asking you to make your way into the hospital. My very first appointment was delayed by over an hour. I just stayed waiting in the car, reading my book in the sun relishing the peace. It was the first time in weeks I was on my own, not being pulled in multiple directions juggling my family and my work.
All other contact with the hospital has been by telephone. I was phoned by a nurse a few days before my first radiotherapy appointment to explain what would happen and how I should prepare myself. I was again telephoned two days into treatment by a nurse who was checking and advising on any side effects I may be experiencing. Whilst this in no means replaces face to face contact, it did mean that the amount of contact time between myself and health professionals was reduced. This method hopefully keeps the patients and the Doctors and nurses treating them as safe as possible.