A mum who sought a doctor’s consultation while thinking she was suffering from Long Covid is now crediting the virus for saving her life after being diagnosed with cancer.
Jemma Falloon went to see her GP in November 2020 after being diagnosed with coronavirus the month before and having lingering issues including a sore throat, back pain and blood in her urine.
Long Covid is defined by the NHS as symptoms that develop during or following the virus “that continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis”.
The 41-year-old sales development officer was sent for tests by her GP, resulting in a diagnosis of thyroid and kidney cancer in December 2020, Cheshire Live reports.
Jemma, who also competes in triathlons in her spare time, lives with her train service controller husband, Mark, 43, their children, Louis, 17, Magnus, four, and Bronwen, three.
Speaking of her shock diagnosis, Jemma said it was Covid that “saved [her] life”.
PA REAL LIFE)
PA REAL LIFE)
“Had I been working and not been off, I would have just carried on as normal,” she said. “I’ve been quite lucky.”
Jemma, who has now had three rounds of surgery to remove her cancerous tumours, succumbed to Covid-19 while she was training for a triathlon in October 2020.
She was “knocked sideways,” she said, struggling to get upstairs and even to breathe.
A month later, she was still suffering with a sore throat and had noticed a lump in her neck, so decided to see a doctor, thinking she had Long Covid.
Phoning her GP, Jemma was asked to come in for blood tests and an examination and was swiftly referred for an ultrasound at Ellesmere Port Hospital four days later.
Just 48 hours after that, her doctor called to tell her a “suspicious nodule” had been found on her thyroid, a small gland at the base of the neck that produces hormones.
The doctor was also concerned by her backache and the blood she had passed in her urine.
PA REAL LIFE)
PA REAL LIFE)
She said: “I travel a lot by car for work, so I do get water infections when I can’t get to the loo when I need to, as it puts pressure on the bladder. Driving can also give me back pain.
Suggesting she could have kidney stones, which can also be linked to the thyroid, her GP sent her for a further ultrasound on her right kidney – only for a mass to be detected on the organ. Following an MRI and CT scan, Jemma was called into the hospital on New Year’s Eve, 2020.
“They told me it was suspected cancer and that they’d need to operate as soon as possible,” she said.
Transferred to Merseyside’s Arrowe Park Hospital in Birkenhead, Jemma’s partial kidney removal – a procedure known as a nephrectomy – was scheduled for mid-February 2021, but because of Covid, was delayed to March 8.
Meanwhile, her ear, nose and throat specialist was keen to operate on her thyroid but, with her kidney being a major organ, medics agreed to prioritise this procedure first.
Jemma, who had to isolate for ten days prior to and ten days after her surgery, said having her kidney out was “tough” both physically and mentally. Getting up and walking hurt, she said, and she struggled to go to the toilet so needed a catheter put in.
She was also left with six scars on her abdomen.
Once she was back on her feet, she went under the knife again – this time for surgery on her thyroid, as neither form of cancer was treatable in her case with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
On May 21, at the Countess of Chester Hospital, in Chester, Cheshire, surgeons removed half, then all of her thyroid, finding papillary thyroid cancer – the most common type – on the right side of the organ.
Her second operation was performed four weeks later on June 24, at the same hospital, followed by checks on her lymph nodes. Now awaiting further scans on her thyroid and kidneys, which she will have every three, six and 12 months for the next 10 years, to monitor for regrowth, she also takes daily thyroid medication to replace the thyroxine hormone the organ made.
“Medics will perform regular blood tests, too, which would show any regrowth or thyroid hormones occurring naturally – which I shouldn’t have, as I now don’t have the organ,” Jemma explained.
PA REAL LIFE)
“My kidney wasn’t great news when they did the biopsy, as a little bit has been possibly left in – but I was told it is a slow-growing cancer.”
Jemma said she was “still really tired” with a lot of back pain, but said that “all things considered” she was in great shape.
However, another concern for Jemma is a nodule which has been spotted on her right lung. She was undergoing regular full-body scans to keep an eye on the size, and was also looking into genetic testing, to find out whether she is biologically prone to any other forms of the disease.
Jemma is now readjusting to normal life – and getting back to her usual active lifestyle – taking part in the Macmillan Mighty Hike last month, walking 13 miles across the Lake District with her husband and a close friend, to thank the Macmillan nurses who supported her throughout her treatment.
“That was horrendous,” she laughed. “It was really tough, but mentally did me the world of good just being able to show myself that I could still get out there and do things.”
She also hosted a Macmillan coffee morning on Saturday, September 25 to support the cancer charity, which is encouraging people to get together with friends and family to raise funds during the month.
She had also been focusing on having some fun as a family, getting out for some bonding time and even touring London to take in the sights.
Jemma’s message to anyone with similar mysterious symptoms is crystal clear – don’t ignore symptoms, hoping they will just go away.
“The sooner they find these things the sooner they can deal with them,” she said.
Sarah Page, from Macmillan, also stresses the need to have any troublesome symptoms checked by a doctor if you feel anything could be wrong.
“It has been a difficult 18 months and we’ve lost time in cancer care,” she added. “At Macmillan we’ve lost over a year of vital fundraising. We’re sadly down by millions, which is money desperately needed.”
“ Coronavirus will leave a lasting legacy for cancer care. If we are going to be there for everyone with cancer from day one, we need your support.”