Week 15 Of Cocooning: A Cancer Survivor On The Care Shortages During COVID-19

28-year-old cervical cancer survivor Aoife P. Rafter completed radiotherapy in January; however, she has had no scans since.

"I wake up and go about my morning routine, completing all my treatments for my Cystic Fibrosis care as usual," Aoife tells Irish Tatler

"In between treatments I spend some time scrolling on Instagram where I see posts and stories of queues for Penneys (with little to no social distancing measures in place) and people planning trips to their nearest drive-thru with family and friends.

"I then flick on to Twitter and read of the precautionary measures that will be in place when the pubs and restaurants re-open in the coming weeks, and that airlines are now advertising holidays for the end of summer," she continues. 

"The post arrives, I receive a letter from my Oncology Team to discover that my next follow up appointment in October has been switched to another 'virtual clinic' instead of my usual visit to St Vincent's. I also haven't received any information on whether or not I will have my regular tests before this appointment, to discuss results with the consultant when he rings me," she says.

Aoife was diagnosed with a 1b1 cervical cancerous tumour at age 27 back in 2019.

It's been 10 months since she underwent a radical hysterectomy to remove to the malignant tumour and surrounding margins from her body.

Following this, she endured 25 sessions of pelvic radiotherapy. That happened some four months ago. Because of COVID-19, she hasn't been checked up since. 

Her health anxieties have come to fruition following an announcement made by Health Minister Simon Harris which states that cancer screening services are not expected to return until the end of the summer.

The National Screening Service, according to his speech, needs ‘several more months’ to prepare.

"Every day our newsfeeds are flooded with headlines that read something along the lines of “Plans to Move to the Next Phase of Reopening the Economy Earlier than Expected”, or “Further Demands for Hairdressers to Reopen”," she tells us. 

"As the days go by, I hope and pray that even just one headline reads, “Roadmap Released to Reopen the Healthcare System with a Phasing Plan Similar To That of The Economy's”.

"But in this country, it appears that that is unlikely as it is not our priority. With each new week, I tune in to the COVID-19 announcements to see what will be asked in relation to moving forward with the cancellation of outpatient clinics and cancer screenings," she says. 

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February 4th is World Cancer Day ️ . . I took this first photo the night after my radical hysterectomy. I had just finished sobbing and snotting into my Lion King Teddy, as I grieved for all that I had physically lost that week  . . It's been a long and trying 7 months since my Cervical Cancer diagnosis. 4 weeks of IVF injections, several hospitalisations, a copious amount of outpatient visits, 25 radiotherapy sessions, and all of the wonderful side effects that are trying to kick my ass 勞浪 . . Every single day I struggle both physically and mentally. But these pictures keeps me in check. It reminds me of how far I've come, how strong I can be when I have no choice but to be, how loved I am, what and who I have to be grateful for (doggos included of course ), and that I just never know what's around the corner for me  . . Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with Cancer every year in Ireland. That's 150 people a day. 1 person every 3 minutes. ⚠️ But so many of these cases are preventable, in fact 4 out of 10 of them are preventable! ⚠️ -Not smoking -Watching our alcohol intake -Eating a balanced and healthy diet -Regular exercise -Keeping up to date with your health screenings -Learning and using useful tools such as mindfulness to control our stress levels . . I've said it once and I'll say it again, we have one precious life. Use it wisely. Take care of your body and your MIND❣️  If you feel you could work on some of the above preventatives, (I know I could! ) then NOW is the time! Lets do it together! ❤️ . . #beatingcancer #cervicalcancer #mindbodyspirit #worldcancerday #ivf #curecancer

A post shared by Aoife P. Rafter (@aoife.p.r) on

Earlier this week, CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan called for Ireland’s screening services to resume, saying any delay will cost lives. Something Aoife wholeheartedly agrees with. 

"I see reporters and journalists ask our Taoiseach, Minister for Health and Chief Medical Officer, “When can we expect to see outpatient clinics return?, When will cancer screenings be back up and running?”.

"But no one has given a direct answer," Aoife says. "In fact, none of them have communicated with us on any insight that they have on the matter."

"As a public patient attending clinics for Oncology, Radiotherapy, Gynaecology, Cystic Fibrosis, Hepatology and ENT, I have received no form of communication or indication as to when any of my clinics will be back up and running," she says.

"There has been no inclusion of the healthcare system in the roadmap to reopening the economy.

"While my peers post about their recent Penneys haul or mock their outgrown roots, my own concerns differ very gravely. At 28 years of age, my anxieties lie in not knowing whether my current health status is classified as 'In Remission' or 'Cancer-Free', or whether that might have reverted in the last four months and it just hasn't been discovered it yet.

"I also don't know if my hormone levels have reached a stage of menopause, a common side effect of pelvic radiotherapy. All of these anxieties are simply the result of not being able to attend any of my outpatient clinics for the essential health care that I need," she continues.

"We, the patients, at the very least, deserve some form of communication from the Minister of Health or the HSE on this matter.

"If it is safe enough to re-open shops, restaurants, pubs, hairdressers and to soon fly abroad for our annual getaway, then surely it is safe enough to start talking about re-opening our healthcare system too?

"The longer we do not have access to our essential healthcare, the more at risk our already vulnerable lives become."

For more information on Ireland's Cancer Screening Programme and how to cope with anxieties similar to Aoife's –– check out the designated page on the Irish Cancer Society's website here

Main image by @aoife.p.r

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