Craigavon mum: Postponement of my cancer treatment makes me sick with worry, as charity calls on Assembly for urgent action plan

A Craigavon mother of two with aggressive breast cancer says she is so anxious at having her treatment indefinitely postponed that she is struggling to sleep.
ClaireMcConville was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer last yearClaireMcConville was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer last year
ClaireMcConville was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer last year

Claire McConville, 47, is speaking out as part of an urgent call by Macmillan Cancer Support to the Assembly to publish a recovery plan for cancer services after coronavirus closed down most treatment.

The charity says it has experienced “unprecedented demand” for its existing services under lockdown, including an increase in calls to its telephone helpline.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Many calls - 82,000 people in NI have cancer - are driven by anxiety and uncertainty as some patients see their cancer treatment changed, postponed or cancelled due to coronavirus, the charity said.

Claire was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer last year and since her diagnosis in July has undergone chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

She was due to attend an appointment in March for further surgery, but this has been put on hold.

Although she is on an urgent waiting list, she has received no indication of when the surgery will be rescheduled and has been struggling with her fears.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The uncertainty is really difficult to deal with,” she said. “I am constantly worried about what’s happening to me while I’m waiting for a new date.

“I’m worried about my physical health, but the delay is also taking its toll emotionally. I’m struggling to sleep as my head is racing with anxiety overnight, and some of the support services that had been helping me to cope have also been cancelled including counselling and physiotherapy.

“I have good days and bad days at the moment, but I can’t help but worry about how long my wait might be.

“I know that many other people are in the same situation, so how long will it take for people like me, living with cancer, to get the urgent treatment that we need?”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Steven McIntosh, director of policy, campaigns and influencing at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Fears surrounding diagnosis and treatment have not disappeared during the crisis, they have multiplied. Claire’s experience demonstrates just how seriously people are being affected by delays here.

“We are calling on the Assembly to urgently publish a recovery plan for cancer services so that people living with cancer can access the treatment they need as soon as possible.

“This means having the right staff, protective equipment and testing to deliver safe care. For anyone whose treatment continues to be affected, a package of clinical, emotional and practical support to meet their current needs should be made available.”

There are 82,000 people living with cancer in Northern Ireland right now, many of whom are dealing with the same concerns as Claire, he added.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Tom Black, Northern Ireland Chair of the British Medical Association, said a review is urgently needed to get cancer patients back into the system.

“This is a very difficult situation and there will be many patients right across Northern Ireland who have concerns about treatment that has now been postponed,” he told the News Letter.

“A recent survey of our members told us that over 60% of doctors here said the situation was ‘worsening’ for non-covid patients, and 44% said their main concern at this time was the longer-term impact on patient clinical demand.

“We need to urgently look at how we begin to get patients with non-covid illnesses such as cancer back into the system, as well as dealing with ongoing covid cases and the new covid cases that will undoubtedly emerge. Our waiting lists have not gone away during this pandemic. We would continue to urge anyone who is experiencing any symptom they are worried about like bleeding, new bumps and lumps, breathlessness or chest pain to see their GP.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Department of Health responded that staff have worked hard to ensure urgent cancer treatment has continued during lockdown.

A spokeswoman said: “The Department acknowledges the severe impact that Covid-19 has had on a range of key services including cancer services. The need to ensure patient safety and meet the challenges inherent in responding to the pandemic has meant that many procedures and diagnostic appointments have had to be postponed or delayed.

“However our dedicated staff have worked incredibly hard to ensure that urgent and emergency cancer treatment has continued during this period. Where difficult decisions were taken to delay diagnostics or treatment during the response to Covid-19, safety netting was in place to ensure that cancer patients can resume treatment on the appropriate pathway as soon as it is safe to do so.

“In parallel with continuing to manage this crisis, significant work is underway to rebuild our health and social care system in the wake of the first Covid-19 surge. Our immediate focus in the coming weeks will be on stepping up any urgent services which were paused. Trusts have already been tasked with developing service rebuilding plans for respective areas including cancer services.”

A message from the Editor:

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Alistair Bushe