Worried you have cancer but not calling your GP because of Coronavirus?
Read Clare from Yarm’s story about how she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Clare is 42 and lives with her husband and 12 year old daughter in Yarm. On the 9th April whilst recovering from suspected Coronavirus she felt an itch under her arm. This is where Clare’s story starts of her diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy during lockdown.
“The day I found a lump was strangely the first day after about 19 days of feeling poorly with Coronavirus symptoms that I actually felt better. It started with a little itch under my armpit when I was in the kitchen, I felt it and found a lump. I went upstairs to look in the mirror. I lifted my arm up and could see a crease. I didn’t like the look of that, it just didn’t look right, so I got straight on the phone to my GP practice. We discussed it on the phone and within two hours the GP called me back and said can we do a video call?
“On the video call I described what I had found and showed the GP. The minute I put my arm up and she saw the crease line she decided to refer me straight to the urgent breast care unit. They rang me within a week of this call and asked me to go to North Tees hospital. This was also over a bank holiday but they got me in straight away.
“My husband dropped me off for my appointment, because of Coronavirus I had to go in on my own. Staff at the desk in the breast care unit were friendly and helpful. The hospital was spotless, everything was clearly marked, there was cleaning going on everywhere and hand sanitiser was available at regular points along my route and I felt safe despite the coronavirus situation. Some areas were blocked off and you could only use certain entrances, the reception desks were shielded with plastic and it looked like all precautions had been taken.
In total, I was there about two hours and didn’t see anyone but the doctors and nurses. I went straight if for a mammogram and other tests before I saw the the consultant. He saw my mammogram and then I went for an ultrasound and biopsy, all in one appointment. From what they saw, they told me it looked likely that I had breast cancer – it was too obvious for it not to be, then they sent the biopsies off to confirm it. To be honest the risk of getting Coronavirus was far less important to me than the thought of having cancer, you just do what you have to do. I just didn’t even give it a second thought.
“I had the lump removed in a lumpectomy operation on the 29th April at North Tees Hospital and was in and out in a day. Everyone was just lovely, especially when you are on your own, in fact everyone was so nice it didn’t feel like I was on my own. There were seven others in that morning and we all had individual rooms, so that was good. All the staff had full PPE on and they were cleaning everything down.
“My first follow up appointment was over the telephone. They got all the cancer so that is good but because of the type of cancer I have, grade 3, which is one of the most aggressive, I have to have chemotherapy and I am starting that at North Tees Hospital next week. All of this has happened within six weeks of finding a lump. After the operation I still had a lot pf pain and they made me an appointment straight away, two days later I saw the surgeon and he alleviated my fears, there was no infection or anything. He had done a small reconstruction during the operation and had filled the hole where he took the lump out of with fat from under my arm. Everyone has been amazing.
“I am heartbroken about potentially losing my hair which is long but my husband is going to cut it shorter before I go in for chemotherapy so I can try the cold cap which might give me a greater chance of keeping my hair.
Asked what Claire would say to anyone sitting at home worrying about a symptom they think could be cancer, she said.
“Just go, contact your GP because if you don’t go as early as you can they may not be able to offer you the treatment you need. Don’t be scared. My cancer was grade 3, very aggressive and growing. What would have happened if I had waited three to six months, it could have been too far advanced, it might of spread somewhere else? People think if it is a telephone appointment what are they going to do? It is not just by telephone, they can do video calls too and if you cannot do them they will see you face to face. People think that because of Coronavirus they cannot get help. You can get the treatment you need and the services are there if you need them.
“The staff were thoughtful, friendly and caring which was important to me facing the situation on my own. The way everything was described to me gave me great confidence that everything was going to be OK and to be able to go home and explain properly to my husband and 12 yr old that I did have cancer but the doctors and nurses could save me. The thing I remember most, is the positivity of the staff when I was first told I had breast cancer. That gave me the same positive vibe to continue through my journey and beyond.”