A Nottingham mum recovering from breast cancer surgery is urging people not to put off contacting their GP during the coronavirus outbreak.
Claire Knee, who is 45 from Beeston, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March – about a week before the national ‘lock-down’ measures were introduced.
Now – after surgeons successfully removed a tumour from her right breast – Claire has advice for people who experience signs and symptoms of cancer but are too scared to contact their GP.
“I hate to think what could have happened if I hadn’t got in touch with the GP when I first spotted the symptoms.
“I’d been feeling off for a while then noticed hard lumps in my breast. When I told my husband he encouraged me to call the surgery straight away, and it was the right choice. From then on things happened so quickly it all seems like a blur.”
Claire was referred for a series of diagnostic tests at the Nottingham City Hospital Breast Institute, where cancer specialists confirmed the presence of a tumour.
“I was diagnosed just before the lock down started so was able to travel to my daughter’s house in Derby and tell her face-to-face. I tried to describe it in the most positive terms but she asked if it was cancer and I said ‘yes’. Then we just started crying.”
In England patients who have symptoms of cancer are referred for urgent assessment and can expect to start treatment within two weeks if cancer is detected. Surgery is normally carried out one of the regional cancer centres such as Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. During the coronavirus outbreak, however, the Trust has been working with private hospitals to carry out urgent surgery in a separate location where patients are less at risk of exposure to the virus.
Surgeons were able to successfully remove the tumour and Claire’s cancer specialist recommended a follow-up course of radiotherapy and hormone treatment.
Claire said: “After the operation, the surgeons said my tumour was about 17mm – about the size of a grape. Thankfully they were able to remove it without cancer spreading to other areas or growing out of control. That was such a relief. If I’d waited I might have been facing bad news.
“Everyone involved in my treatment was so supportive and understanding – from my local GP at the Manor surgery right through to the staff at the Breast Institute and Park Hospital.
“Looking back I just think that if I hadn’t made the call to my GP I would be walking around with undetected breast cancer, which could still be growing now.
“I would urge anyone in similar circumstances to contact their GP and get checked – even if it’s just for peace of mind.”
Claire’s plea to local people comes as the NHS launches a major drive to persuade people to seek the urgent care and treatment they need. New research, published as part of the campaign, suggests that nearly half of the public have concerns about seeking help during the coronavirus pandemic.
One in 10 people would not contact their GP even if they had a lump or a new mole which did not go away after a week, the survey found.
Another third of people would worry about seeking help, according to polling carried out by Portland.
Getting coronavirus or giving it to their family were among the top reasons that people would not come forward when they have cancer symptoms along with fears that they could be a burden to the health service.
Dr Thilan Bartholomeuz, who is a local GP and CCG Cancer Lead, said: “If you have a symptom that you are worried about, you must contact your GP Practice.
“If there is a need for further investigations your doctor may recommend urgent referral for assessment at a regional cancer centre.
“The wishes of patients and their families will always come first. If cancer is diagnosed your clinician would discuss the benefits of starting cancer treatment against the increased risks of contracting coronavirus.
“All NHS organisations have taken action to adapt the way we work in order to ensure patients and staff are safe. The most important thing to emphasise is that people should seek help as they always would.
“Most cancers are more easily cured or treated in the earliest stages of the disease. And if you have other health issues, please know that the NHS is here for you when you need medical help.”
Drop in the number of patients seeking help
Figures released by the main two cancer treatment centres in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire show that the number of new cases requiring assessment for potential cancer has fallen by more than 65 per cent since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.
The marked change could mean that thousands of patients are putting their lives at risk by waiting longer with symptoms of cancer.