A leading cancer consultant from Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, is urging anyone with worrying symptoms not to let the ongoing lockdown put them off getting checked by their GP or miss scheduled tests or treatment.
Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Sean Watermeyer, who is the Rhondda Taff Ely clinical lead for gynaecological cancers for the Health Board, is asking anyone who is worried about suspicious lumps, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness, bleeding or a new, persistent pain, to contact their GP surgery and not let their concerns go unchecked while we remain under Tier 4 restrictions.
“We are very aware that since the start of the pandemic last year, far fewer people have been seeking medical help for serious health concerns, for fear, not only of contracting the virus, but also of putting the doctors and nurses under additional strain,” he said.
“We want people to know that despite the huge challenges we have faced throughout the pandemic, our cancer investigation, screening and treatment services have not stopped. We have been committed to maintaining cancer treatments and have been working tirelessly to ensure that planned cancer care can be delivered in line with our patients’ treatment plans.
“We have obviously had to make some changes to our services, but the vast majority of cancer care has been able to continue as planned and we have been working around the clock to make our premises as safe as possible. We are concerned, however, that fewer people have been referred to us since last March, which suggests that there must be people who are displaying symptoms but are not coming forward to be diagnosed.”
Significant measures have been put in place across the NHS during the pandemic to ensure that those who need care can still get it and get it safely. GPs across the health board region are all offering phone and digital appointments, to avoid unnecessary visits to the surgery, and all health settings have the necessary social distancing measures, hand hygiene, surface decontamination, ventilation and PPE usage in place to ensure patient and staff safety.
Mr Watermeyer said he knew that worrying about symptoms could be extremely stressful and so contacting their GP could help to put people’s minds at ease.
“The majority of people who go to their GP with symptoms or have screening tests or investigations turn out not to have cancer so if you are worried, the chances are that you’ll be fine.
“However, if it does turn out to be something more serious, the sooner you find out, the sooner you can get the treatment and support you need and the higher your chances of getting better. Ignoring symptoms certainly won’t make then go away, so if you are worried, please talk to your GP.”
As well as encouraging people to come forward with their health concerns, Mr Watermeyer is also keen to make sure those patients in the area who have already been diagnosed with cancer keep to their scheduled appointments.
“We are seeing several examples of cancer patients missing appointments for treatment or asking to delay planned procedures as they are concerned about coming into hospital at this time. While we understand their anxieties, we want to reassure patients that we have introduced enhanced cleaning of all clinical areas throughout the pandemic, and improved our infection, prevention and control procedures to keep all patients as safe as possible. All of our staff wear full personal protective equipment at all times and all patients are required to wear a face masks so we really would urge everyone to keep to their appointments if they are able to.”
As part of the Welsh Government’s Help Us Help You campaign, the health board is keen to reassure local residents that they can still access the NHS for whatever care they need but should be sensible about how they do it.
“There is no doubt that our staff and services have been exceptionally stretched over the last year, but this should not put off people from getting any worries checked. Ignoring health problems can have serious consequences, both now and in the future, and will create far more of a burden on the NHS if they are allowed to develop into something potentially more serious.
“It is a sobering statistic but one in two people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. Unexplained changes to your body’s normal processes can sometimes be an indicator of cancer but spotting the signs early significantly increases the chance of survival. You know your body best so talk to your doctor if you have noticed any unusual changes to your health during lockdown that are worrying you, please help us to help you and contact your GP today.”
“I feel very lucky” says Pontyclun mum who had breast cancer surgery in first week of March lockdown
“I’ll never forget that split second when my life changed forever,” says Cath Palmer, 48, from Pontyclun. Married to Guy and mum to 11-year-old Lauren, Cath is a classical musician in a professional orchestra in Cardiff. In February last year, she found a lump in her armpit in the shower and went immediately to get it checked out.
“I know that lots of people’s first instinct if they notice a change in their body is to bury their heads in the sand and try to ignore the symptoms, but I just had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right and so didn’t hesitate to book an appointment with my doctor.
“He referred me to radiology and after my ultrasound on 18th February, I was told it was breast cancer. I was devastated. You just never believe that it’s going to happen to you.
“Thankfully, my husband was with me at that point as the pandemic hadn’t taken hold yet but that was the last time that I had anyone else with me throughout the whole of my treatment, which has been tough.
“I had my breast surgery at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital on Friday 27 March, three days after the whole country had gone into a national lockdown. It was completely surreal. I had to go in all on my own and the place was deserted. There were only four patients on the whole ward, one in each room, and all the doctors and nurses were head to toe in PPE. The staff were amazing, and even though the experience was frightening, I was reassured at every step of the procedure and fortunately, the surgery went well. I was sent home the next day with a drain in and had visits from the District Nurse over the next few weeks.
“Unfortunately, it’s an aggressive, grade 3 cancer and it’s spread to my lymph nodes, so I’ve had to have further treatment. I had three weeks of radiotherapy and then thankfully, I qualified for a clinical trial for hormonal treatment which is likely to be more effective than chemotherapy would have been for my particular type of cancer.
“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve had to go to my doctor’s surgery for an injection every three months and into hospital every six months for an infusion but can honestly say I’ve never felt unsafe or at risk of catching Covid as the NHS has taken every possible safety precaution. The team I’ve had looking after me has been incredible throughout it all and I can’t thank them enough.
“The last year has been an absolute nightmare and I don’t really know how I’ve got through it, but my family and friends and cancer care team have all been unbelievably supportive. I just feel so very, very lucky that my tumour was detected early and that I’ve been able to continue with all my treatment as planned throughout lockdown, without any delays or cancellations.
“I don’t know if I would have been so quick to go my doctor if I’d found the lump during lockdown but my message to anyone who has noticed a change to any part of their body, is don’t let the pandemic put you off getting it checked. You might not want to face what is happening and might be tempted to put off seeking help, but if it is cancer, it will not go away on its own. Remember that cancers that are caught early are very often treatable. If I hadn’t made an appointment as soon as I found my lump, I might be telling a very different story today and that just doesn’t bear thinking about.”