Bryony was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, and shares how the coronavirus and shielding has affected her and her family

27 April 2020

Bryony was due to start her third round of chemotherapy when the country went into lockdown. Weeks earlier she had surgery to remove a tumour from her pancreas, but when her eight-year-old daughter developed a fever her chemotherapy was delayed. Bryony’s chemotherapy has now been rescheduled, and she has shared her experience with shielding and having treatment during a pandemic.

My recovery from surgery had gone so well that they started my chemotherapy a month earlier than originally planned. I think any change in your treatment plan, even if it’s positive, can give you a bit of a wobble, so when I first heard I was a bit taken aback.

I started my first round of chemotherapy in February and had the first two rounds while the NHS was still running as normal. I was due my third round of chemo when we entered into lockdown. My daughter had a temperature so we couldn’t proceed and I was really concerned. My husband reminded me that if we’d been on the original timeline, I wouldn’t have even started my chemo yet, which was reassuring.

The idea of not having treatment felt like all the work that the medics had done to get me to this stage could potentially be wasted. I got myself worked up about the cancer reoccurring, but we’re back on track and I’m having my third round now.

They’ve moved all the chemotherapy into the dental hospital, which is excellent because they will have no coronavirus patients there at all. They all have PPE (personal protective equipment) and it is all very well staffed. Given the circumstances, I felt safe there.

It feels like Russian roulette

My oncologist has said that they may reduce this round of chemo from six months to three. But that all depends on my immune system’s response. The thought of it scares me. It feels like Russian roulette. I really do want to do the full round of treatment but we’ll have to wait to see. I think if I stopped at three months and the cancer comes back I will feel like coronavirus got me. I know that other people have had their chemo cancelled so I’m grateful that mine is going ahead for now. I’ll take three months of chemo, it’s better than not having any.

It’s myself, my husband, my daughter at home. I’m now in shielding so I’m not allowed within two metres of them. It’s almost impossible to home school an eight-year-old at that distance and I can’t put into words how hard it is not being able to hug them. My husband, Tom, has a full-time job and, with my business being essentially on hold, our income is reliant on him. With my chemo symptoms affecting 10 out of every 14 days, he is working, cooking, cleaning and teaching. His reaction is to be hyper-useful and very practical but it will be taking a toll on him.

Both Tom and I are very detailed people and I don’t think there is any information on the Pancreatic Cancer UK website that Tom hasn’t read. It’s a comfort to know that the charity’s specialist nurses are available to speak to through the support line because pancreatic cancer is a lifelong journey and I can’t be sure with what will happen next.

April 2020