Going through cancer treatment during COVID-19

Icon Writers / 08 May, 2020

Ovarian cancer patient Debbie shares her experience this World Ovarian Cancer Day

59-year-old Debbie Pritchard was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in July 2019. She had been seeing a gynaecologist for more than three years, regularly getting things checked whilst going through menopause and undergoing a few procedures to fix a stubborn fibroid. After realising that something wasn’t quite right, Debbie was told that the best plan to permanently resolve her issues with fibroids was through a hysterectomy.

“My surgeon agreed that he would leave my ovaries if they were looking okay. But during surgery, he found signs of ovarian cancer. I’d had two or three years with some small symptoms and as my results were always clear, I certainly never thought it could be cancer. I was stunned. A week later I receive a phone call with my results – I had ovarian cancer.”

Debbie was then referred to Icon Cancer Centre Southport, where she received chemotherapy once a week for 12 weeks before undergoing a radical hysterectomy. She says from that moment on, she focused on the positive – that everything was going to be okay.

“I nicknamed the procedure ‘cheese and crackers’ rather than chemo to take my mind off the meaning of the word. I adapted to the treatment really well, with only a few side effects.”

Following her radical hysterectomy over Christmas, Debbie returned to Icon in late February for her second round of chemotherapy treatment. But this time the experience was very different.

“I began my treatment right at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in Australia. Before my diagnosis I had always been careful with my hygiene. During treatment I was even more cautious; I was working from home and asking friends and family to stay away if sick. The measures in place during COVID-19 just felt like an extension of that.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Icon has established many safety precautions to protect the health of patients and staff. These include patient screening and limiting visitor numbers to one per patient.

With these precautions front of mind, Debbie made the decision to no longer have any friends or family join her during treatment in order to protect herself and others from the potential spread of COVID-19.

“I told my husband and my friends that I would be okay. I had tunnel vision – I just had to keep going. I have nothing but praise for the way the pandemic has been handled by Icon staff and the wonderful nursing team at Icon Southport. Every step of the way Icon had the latest information and were putting measures and precautions in place to keep us safe.”

Debbie says that her last day was truly an unforgettable experience despite the circumstances, with the use of a virtual solution meaning her friends and family could still be with her.

“To have them there was beyond belief; it was amazing. Under normal circumstances it would have been too many people to visit. This brought some normality in such a modern and appropriate way, and now I have this memory forever.”

Through it all, the support from Debbie’s family and friends helped her stay positive and confident that she could get through diagnosis, treatment and beyond.

She says that having the right people around her, including those providing her care, made things easier.

“I’m extremely grateful for the specialists and staff at Icon. What I witnessed gave me total continued confidence.”

“Despite COVID-19, treatment was honestly just business as usual for me. Although it was strange not to shake my doctor’s hand!”

For cancer patients who are set to begin or are currently undergoing cancer treatment during COVID-19, Debbie recommends that you put yourself first and take everything one step at a time.

“It’s important to keep it real. It’s also important to ’run your own race’. Just stick to the plan and believe in your care team. The wisest thing to do is to take care with your hygiene and limit who you see, especially if they are unwell, while keeping on top of your nutrition, exercising and keeping your mind busy and occupied. You don’t want to come down with anything during your treatment.”

With her treatment now complete, Debbie, like many others, is unsure what tomorrow will bring in the current pandemic situation, but looks forward to getting on with life.

“I have a trip to the UK planned in December, but I’m not sure what’s happening with that. Nobody can plan right now; we’re all in this together. For now, I’m very grateful to be here.”

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