My personal COVID journey started after a visit to my gynaecologist for an overdue general check up. Unexpectantly she found a very small spot on my breast. Off for a new mammogram & ultrasound.

Friday 28 February I’m on a bus riding home from an audiology appointment. I get a message. I call, there is something definite there. I may have cancer. I need a biopsy.

Oy Vey! How am I going to manage? Shock, my thoughts are naturally buzzing. I’m a single woman over 60, living on my own and also low income; this is going to be difficult! Also, the COVID thing is concerning.

I have no private medical insurance, so ‘going public’ is my only option. Additionally, I also experience anxiety about how I would manage.

Thankfully in between my anxious thoughts some clearer thinking popped into my head. My first thought was that though this COVID thing seemed very serious, hopefully it’ll go away.  I decided to only read basic information and not delve too deeply. I then drew strength from the example of both my late parents: dad who lived for 41 years with a rare form of leukaemia and my mum who rationally faced her own lung cancer until it beat her.

I knew as an isolated person I also needed people around me who I could rely on. Obviously this would be my son living in Brisbane and my sister in Melbourne. Better not to worry them unless I have a confirmed diagnosis. I then drew my ‘pick a friend card’ and rang one. I had a shoulder to cry one, support and some sensible advice.

The following week I had a biopsy and was relaxed until my GP’s Friday afternoon message that she wanted to see me first thing Monday morning, the Labour Day holiday- not a good sign! My results were then as expected and she’d already sent a referral to the Alfred Health Breast Clinic. Would this evolving COVID thing affect available treatment?  Time to tell my son and sister. Both were of course shocked.

The next morning, Purim, my sister is on my doorstep. At short notice she is flying to Israel that afternoon. We hug, I’m her only goodbye. What was going to happen in the coming weeks?

My most anxious week was waiting at my first appointment at the breast clinic, whilst trying not to take too much notice of the evolving serious news about COVID.

To support myself I told a few more people and set up a family ‘WhatsApp’ group that would keep Melbourne, Brisbane and Jerusalem in my loop. I could share what I needed and also keep my spirits up with some silly moments.  Eight days later I saw the specialist and surgery was booked for the following week.

Now I had to prepare. Whilst others were panic shopping including for Pesach, I tried to stay calm and stock up only what I really might need if I had to stay home to recover and also isolate.  It was essential to have enough toilet paper and matzah! Also that week an uplifting COVID related experience as my niece at very short notice brought her planned post Pesach wedding forward, to beat the Israeli lockdown. With joy I watched the family simcha live on Facebook.

We have an amazing public health system. In the middle of a pandemic, four weeks exactly after my gynaecologist visit, I had my necessary surgery. A week later I received my full results. Fortunately my cancer was small, no spread, treatable and no need for chemotherapy.

A solo Pesach followed, though alone at my table, I don’t think I’ve ever sung so loud, relishing freedom. In May I had three weeks of radiation therapy. Followed by some quieter weeks whilst my body recovered.

So why share this very personal story?

Today a few more months down the track, I’m home in Melbourne’s second lockdown. Everywhere there is the unavoidable COVID talk. Meanwhile, even with the difficulties, I’ve found these times inspiring, nurturing, accepting of change, generating adaptability and created a positive outlook for what the future will bring.

In recent years I have been under-employed in my speciality of Inclusive Communications so I started to also volunteer as a health consumer advocate. Along comes COVID and unexpectedly I’m busier than ever.  Whilst this has not added to my income, it’s a positive influence for my mental wellbeing and medical recovery. Feeling useful, doing small positive things to contribute during this crisis.

I am so thankful for the public medical care I’ve received, even during a pandemic. Don’t let fear of COVID stop you from looking after yourself. You are doing no-one a favour, not your family, friends nor the medical system. Yes there are some delays and risks, but take advice from your doctors and health practitioners. Be reassured that treatment for anyone with COVID is being handled physically separate from the care of the majority.

I’d also like to suggest to people to find something, no matter how small, to be positive about – something useful for yourself, family, friends and the community. Remember that old saying ‘when you give to others, you get more back’. Look forward to what we will have and not backward at the past.

Article by Author/s
Andrea Cooper
Andrea is passionate about inclusion including access to information. Her work is in advocating for Inclusive Communications to reach audiences from diverse cultures, with limited English literacy, with a communications disability and or limited digital access/ ability. Andrea is also a health consumer advocate with her commitment coming from personal experience including having moderate hearing loss. She serves on committees including at Alfred Health and the Dental Health Service Victoria. Andrea has been a member of the DHHS/ Safer Care Victoria, Consumer Leadership Reference Group (COVID) and a participant in the Consumer Health Forum’s ‘Loneliness Thought Leadership Roundtable’.

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