Change and Check: Jen and Mary on living with Secondary Breast Cancer and Covid
As Health Secretary Matt Hancock says that cancer treatment could be delayed until Covid is brought under control, we continued our Change and Check campaign by talking to two women - Jen and Mary - who are living with Secondary Breast Cancer.
Mary, who contracted Covid at the beginning of lockdown, told Lorraine that while the decision to suspend her treatment was taken out of her hands because it was too dangerous for her to continue with the chemotherapy she was having at the time, it has been devastating for the people who could have continued treatment and weren’t given the choice.
"I think it’s particularly devastating because being off treatment is not the best thing when you are a stage 4 cancer patient. It’s basically your lifeline so you need that treatment. You don’t want to be off treatment," she explained.
Mary went on to explain that she was "off-treatment" for four weeks and, in those four weeks, experienced progression. "I had to change treatment. It was not a good situation. I’m just hoping the one that I’m on works for me as long as possible," she said.
Jen told Lorraine how she told her oncology team that stopping treatment wasn't an option for her.
"I said to them, that’s not an option, as a stage 4 cancer patient, you can’t afford for treatment to be stopped. So the agreement that we came to was that my chemotherapy would be reduced which I was OK with."
"It meant also that I didn’t have to go into the hospital, I wouldn’t have to go in for scans, I wouldn't have to go in for blood tests. At the time I was more afraid of getting Covid so not going in for scans, although it wasn’t ideal, I was fine. It meant I didn’t have to go into a hot spot."
As Covid numbers started to drop, Jen contacted her oncology team and requested to have a CT scan, which ultimately showed that she had also experienced progression.
"My mets have always been in my lungs and my spine but they said they have now found a couple of spots in my liver as well. Straight away my treatment stopped. That was two months ago. I actually haven’t started treatment yet. I was due to start a trial last week but again I had a new biopsy done that showed the pathology of my tumours had changed so I didn’t qualify for that trial anymore so I’m due to go into the hospital. I should be starting a new treatment," she said.
Dr Hilary Jones passionately called for cancer treatments to continue, before urging anyone who is experiencing symptoms to contact their GP. "We desperately need people to come forward with any symptoms that resemble cancer. Call your GP. Your GP can see you. It might take longer than usual because everything has to be deep cleaned and PPE has to be applied but cancer services must continue and people must continue with their treatment."
"You’ve got to have the bed capacity to treat cancer patients, you’ve got to have the diagnostic services, the scans, the treatment, the oncologist working and not redeployed elsewhere to tackle Covid. So you presumably need Covid dedicated hospitals in areas and everything else must continue the same otherwise we’re going to lose patients...We need to address this urgently," he added.
Secondary (or metastatic) breast cancer is when breast cancer spreads from the breast to other parts of the body, becoming incurable. Breast cancer most commonly spreads to the bones, brain, lungs or liver.
While it cannot be cured, there are treatments that can help control certain forms of the disease for some time and relieve symptoms to help people live well for as long as possible.
There are an estimated 35,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK. In around 5% of women, breast cancer has already spread by the time it is diagnosed.