Today’s reported death toll from Covid-19 takes the UK’s grim total to 4,313.
I thought being told I had an aggressive form of cancer was the worst day of my life. Fast forward just a few weeks and I discovered that, actually, things could get worse – a lot worse.
Within days of starting chemotherapy for stage 3 HER2+ inflammatory breast cancer in February, coronavirus became a real worry. Not just because my treatment was being delivered in a communal infusion centre but because I also have COPD.
I braved my second round of chemo last month and, literally, counted down the 14 days after. I was terrified I would pick up the virus in hospital or in the patient transport I used there and back.
On the return journey, I was lumped in with another patient, who did not have a compromised immune system and complained of feeling sick.
Luckily, I am fine – so far. I am now one of the ‘shielded’; someone deemed ‘extremely vulnerable’ by the Government and told to stay indoors for 12 weeks.
Like many cancer patients up and down the country, I received the dreaded call from my oncologist just as the virus was taking off. It was to cancel our next in-person meeting – I was going to suggest Skype anyway. I was told, I was being taken off the hospital’s chemo books and being passed back to the breast cancer surgeon for ‘curative’ surgery.
Apart from the fact that two chemo treatments are not enough for someone with my diagnosis, I did not fancy going under the knife (which would have been next week) during the height of a global pandemic. Not with COPD.
The spread of Covid-19
I have been following the course of the virus from the beginning. If I could live my life again, I would work in health and safety because I am truly paranoid of any risks. You should see the measures I take to disinfect anything that comes into my home!
When it became clear that holidaymakers from popular European destinations, where the virus was really taking off, were returning to the UK and being told to only self-isolate if they experienced symptoms, I was among the first to take to Twitter to voice my concerns. One of my tweets attracted more than 185,000 impressions.
I felt anyone returning from anywhere outside of the country should be told to self-isolate. And I didn’t think the measures at UK airports were advancing our chances of escaping the terror of the virus. I still think that now.
But what concerned me most was catching the virus in hospital because of lack of testing.
Since then, I have been charting the known instances – and they are starting to mount. They are all truly heartbreaking.
After realising I wasn’t going to go for surgery, I was offered chemo again. However, there is no option to have this treatment at home – where I can control the environment. For example, having the treatment in my garden with separate, heated enclosed outdoor accommodation being provided by me for the nurse in between the four drug infusions – Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin and Perjeta – and saline bags. I really am that paranoid. And, of course, I would insist on PPE.
Because of my COPD, I cannot risk travelling in a car with anyone for the 40-odd minutes it takes – each way – to get to hospital and back.
So, sadly, my cancer treatment is on hold. I cannot think of a worse death than struggling to breathe.
I was granted funding to have injections of the targeted cancer therapy Herceptin at home. This is not chemo. However, this treatment will not take place – on safety grounds. A request for Perjeta, another targeted cancer therapy, was declined.
I have had to ask myself if I want to risk dying by this time next month from Covid-19 or living longer with cancer. Hence the ‘catch 22’.
There has been a lot written – and said – about lack of PPE use in hospitals. I am afraid, I am one of those who thinks the current protective equipment is not up to the job and that ALL hospital staff should be wearing the best available PPE. This is a failing on the Government’s part, not individual hospitals.
With non-corona patients catching the virus in hospitals across the country and subsequently dying, I am afraid I am not prepared to risk it.
For now, I am living one day at a time – in isolation – and hoping beyond hope others stay at home too – so I have, at least, some chance of getting my cancer treatment back on track. I want to be able to hug my granddaughter again.
Today, I have ventured all the way to my garden shed/home bar for a small glass of low-strength wine. After all, you have got to make the most of every day. Especially in these depressing times.