Cancer in the time of Coronovirus Jan-March 2020

I began the New Year of 2020, as so many of us no doubt did, with the best intentions. I was going to get fitter, get my left leg which had become terribly weak, stronger and with a bit of luck and a strong tail wind, lose a bit of weight. In order to facilitate this bold goal, I actually put my money where my mouth was and signed up with a personal trainer. The PT lived not a five-minute walk around the corner from me so there could be no excuses. I was not without trepidation; my walking had become increasingly dodgy again and I was worried about what the trainer would think. In the event I needn’t have worried. Alex turned out to be lovely, kind and thoughtful and very happy to engage in activity to target my leg. The only downside was that she was young, gorgeous with the body of a Goddess and worked out of a mirrored studio. It was a challenge to avoid seeing my own dumpy reflection as we worked but I did my best. And the sessions were enjoyable, pitched perfectly to get me working but not in despair at my lack of mobility. Alex really understood my fears and lack of confidence over what I could manage and as the weeks went by, I felt I was making good progress. As a bit of a bonus it was a HIIT regime, meaning after the exertion, I’d have to rest to bring my heart rate down and we’d have a good natter.

During our sessions in January, a new virus was being reported. It had originated in China and was apparently wildly infectious though not terribly dangerous; or so we thought. Alex had grown up in Singapore and had lived there through the SARs epidemic and knew how frightening the experience could be. The messages we were getting though was that it was not dangerous other than to the very elderly or perhaps those with underlying health problems. I briefly wondered if that might include me but I was due a visit with Dr Pinelopi so I knew I could check then. In mid Jan my sister Catherine visited with my niece, Phoebe. Catherine was looking super well; she had been engaging with cold water showers and cold-water immersion and said it had done wonders for her health. She was far less troubled by migraines and other menopausal aggravations and was feeling at her most well ever. At the end of February, I went for my regular 4 monthly scan. For the first time ever it all went perfectly smoothly. I turned up to have my canula put in and they popped it in like it was no problem at all, no multiple stabbings, no heat pad needed, no summoning of someone else. I arrived for the scan itself in good time, not sweating and fretting I would miss my slot as had often happened previously because of problems getting the canula done. The icing on the cake was the scan was actually in the hospital not one of the trucks outside. Luckily, I don’t tend to superstition – much or I might have started to fear it may be a bad omen. As it was, I merely felt relieved it had all been over and done with so easily.

News about Coronovirus was becoming increasingly persistent, the first deaths in Europe were being reported, holidays on cruise ships were looking like a really bad idea (like they ever didn’t – but each to their own). Somewhat more unnervingly, Italy was starting to look like things were getting out of control, rather rapidly. Perhaps this pesky virus was going to be more troublesome than we had thus far been led to believe… Certainly, by mid-March, when I was having my scan results things were gathering pace quickly. There was talk in the air of lock downs, really scary videos from Italy of a rapidly overwhelmed health service; in the UK we were told to wash our hands regularly – not a few days later our leader would be spouting theories about herd immunity – we had no idea what was just round the corner. For now, I noticed how empty the waiting room was, very unusual. We were called in pretty quickly by Dr P. Hooray, once again the news was good, great really. No movement on the scan – exactly what we wanted to hear. I thought I should check, though I felt pretty silly doing so. “Should I be worrying more about Coronovirus – is this counted as an underlying health condition?

Dr P. reassured me entirely. No, no, my bloods were fine so nothing to fear. “Go and live. Live your life!” she told me. Music to my ears. Better yet they wouldn’t scan me again for 6 months so I assumed this change in timings was a sign that they had increasing confidence in my mad head. In reality it’s probably a budget constraint but I like to take my good omens where I can find them! If I said earlier, I don’t take notice of such things, I lied. I simply pick and choose to suit!

David was due to be going with some friends for a long overdue break to Ghent. Meanwhile I was going to go by train to visit my friends in Stamford. It is perhaps an indicator of how slow on the uptake we were all being that no-one was yet expressing any doubt about this venture. I did notice they seemed to be having rather a high infection rate in Belgium and I started to feel less keen on train travel. Meanwhile, my friend Liz, with whom I was going to stay was having to nip to Heathrow to collect her son who had been travelling in Vietnam. A member of the group he had been travelling with had been in contact with someone who had tested positive with Covid-19. They were quarantined, at first rather pleasantly at a beach resort in Halong Bay but things took a darker turn when they were sprayed down with some sort of disinfectant and confined in an army barracks. It seems the Vietnamese were taking containment far more seriously than the UK. After much discussion the Ghent bound group decided to abort their trip and convene instead in Stamford. Luckily for them they made that call as that evening Belgium announced all bars and restaurants were to be shut. We instead all passed a pleasant weekend in Stamford.

On Monday I went to my shift at Citizens Advice. It would be the last I would do in person for some time. The following day we closed for face-to-face appointments. Meanwhile France declared a total lock-down. It would be another week before the UK followed suit. Then I received a text message telling me I had been identified as being at increased risk were I to contract Covid and I must shield myself for 12 weeks. The text said I could have a window open! This was most unwelcome news. I may love a dystopic novel or film beyond all other genre but I don’t want to live the plot of one. The text is followed up (as if they know how useless I am with texts – well reception is so patchy I just can’t be doing with them) with a letter. This is all very alarming though the letter at least says I can go in the garden. I crack and decide to phone Hannah. I’d been reluctant to bother them as I guess they are pretty busy at the moment but needs must. Just as well I did. Hannah confirms I am not more at risk and the letters have been going to loads of people they shouldn’t have. Better that way round, I think.

As I should really know by now, never relax; any moment off guard a massive curve ball can be sent your way. And so it proved in the form of a phone call from my sister Catherine. Catherine was now living on the edge of the Lake District, some 270 miles away. She had most unwelcome news. Following a visit with her GP, rapidly followed up with a hospital appointment it was confirmed she had womb cancer. She was beside herself, as was I. Throughout all my darkest moments, she had been by my side, helping with whatever I needed. The thought of her now going through the distress and fear, overwhelming fear that a cancer diagnosis brings without my being able to support her was quite unbearable. On a more positive note she was stage 1A which meant, or should mean that the cancer is contained within the womb thus, in theory, should be quite curable with a simple (!) hysterectomy. But the UK is now in lock down so we agree to wait and find out what will happen next to work out what to do. In the meantime, I try to reassure her as best I can by phone. It’s a poor substitute when you want, beyond all else, to give the person the hug they desperately need. This is seems is rapidly becoming the grimmest legacy of Covid-19, that when loved ones are at their most vulnerable, in many cases on their deathbeds, their nearest and dearest can’t be with them, can’t give them any physical comfort at all – a cruel trick indeed.









Author: bombinmybrain

I’ve been living with a brain tumour for 17 years. Over the past years I've experienced Radiotherapy, operations and more recently Chemotherapy and I want to share my experience of those as well as some of the events along the way. I’m a Mother of 2, volunteer adviser with Citizen’s Advice, a lover of music, Pointless and the curative values of a good strong cup of tea.

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