Being diagnosed with cancer during Covid-19: Judith's experience

Date: 21 September 2020

Judith Williams feels extremely lucky that her lung cancer was found at an early stage.

The 76-year-old from Bradley, near Keighley, had no idea she would end up in hospital when she began suffering from a chest infection at the end of February this year.

The great-grandmother often struggled to breathe during the winter months because of ‘chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’ or ‘COPD’, which she was diagnosed with six years ago.

However, this time Judith’s breathing became so difficult that her husband John decided to call 999, and she was swiftly admitted to Airedale Hospital.

While there, doctors took an x-ray of her chest to check her lungs for any further problems.

“After a few days I was discharged. I felt fine, and didn’t think anything was wrong,” Judith explained. “Then I got a phone call from Airedale to say they had found a cancer on the x-ray, but it was very, very small. It came as a complete shock.”

Being diagnosed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that most of Judith’s appointments were carried out over the phone. She had one face-to-face appointment at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds, and that was when she was first shown her scan.

She said: “On the first phone call with Airedale they said ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come in and I can’t show you where the cancer is’. That was very strange, but I still felt safe and that they were looking after me. They explained that if I ever wanted to ring, I could.”

Because the cancer had been found at such an early stage, Judith was able to begin a course of eight sessions of radiotherapy. She was asked to attend these sessions alone to minimise the risk of the virus spreading.

Judith was then required to ‘shield’ at home for three months, meaning she was unable to leave home or see family and friends. She is now waiting for a follow-up scan to find out whether the treatment has been successful.

“It was strange not having my husband with me at my appointments, but the doctors and nurses were all very nice,” Judith said. “They were absolutely marvellous and I was very happy to go along."

"They had put lots of measures in place to make sure we were protected from the virus. There wasn’t anything to be worried about at all."

“After my last radiotherapy session, I was given a booklet with possible side effects, but I’ve had no after-effects at all – nothing. I was amazed by how simple my treatment was, and that it was able to take place as normal even in such difficult times.”

Now that she no longer needs to shield, Judith has been enjoying spending time with her two daughters, four granddaughters and great-granddaughter, although still while socially distancing.

She added: “They recently came to see me, and it was lovely. They were obviously all very worried and upset when we first heard the news, but things are now looking more positive. I’m just so thankful that it was found when it was, otherwise it would have been a lot worse for me. There’s nothing to be frightened of, even in this pandemic. I feel extremely lucky.”


Lung cancer: symptoms and diagnosis

Lung cancer is the most common cancer in Yorkshire, with around 4,600 cases diagnosed each year.

People with lung cancer are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage when treatment options are limited, and survival rates are lower.

During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, GP surgeries saw a significant and worrying decline in the number of people getting in touch with possible cancer symptoms. 

Our calculations show that during lockdown, an estimated 50 people in our region missed out on a diagnosis of lung cancer every month.

If you are worried about any symptoms of lung cancer, please contact your GP.

The main symptoms include:

  • a cough that doesn’t go away after 2 or 3 weeks
  • a long-standing cough that gets worse
  • chest infections that keep coming back
  • coughing up blood
  • an ache or pain when breathing or coughing
  • persistent breathlessness
  • persistent tiredness or lack of energy
  • loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss

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