Sylvia’s story: Receiving a cancer diagnosis during the pandemic

People can feel all sorts of emotions when receiving a cancer diagnosis – and finding out this news in the midst of a global pandemic can feel even more daunting. We spoke with Sylvia Parsons, who was recently diagnosed with womb cancer, to find out about her experience. 

When did you start noticing symptoms? 

The first thing I experienced was some bleeding. This had happened a few months earlier and had been related to a UTI, so I assumed it was same thing this time.

After six weeks or so, I decided to contact my GP about it. I now know that you should immediately see a doctor if you have any bleeding after menopause, but at the time I wasn't aware of this. 

When did you receive your cancer diagnosis and how did you feel? 

On the 13th of December 2020, my consultant sent me for further tests – an ultrasound, internal examination, CT scan, MRI scan, plus a biopsy was taken at this stage. I received some results the same day as the tests which was absolutely fantastic. Ten days later I was told I had womb cancer and that it was stage one, but most importantly it hadn’t spread. I was so pleased and utterly relieved to hear this news – before this I was terrified, because I didn’t know what to expect. 

What treatment did you require? 

As the cancer hadn't spread, I needed a total hysterectomy but luckily no further treatment was required. My consultant Miss Carina Johnstone-Ayliffe referred me for surgery, but unfortunately, due to the pressures the NHS was under from Covid-19, my surgery was cancelled and pushed back a number of times.  

Miss Johnstone-Ayliffe and Michelle, my Macmillan Cancer Nurse, were absolutely fantastic and kept me up to date with all the changes and kept pushing for a new date for my surgery. As a result of this I was booked in for surgery at Cromwell Hospital, as part of The Royal Marsden Cancer Hub*.

At this point, I was still very worried that my surgery would be cancelled again. It was such relief to when the day came for my surgery which was just over a month from my diagnosis, I thought this was amazingly quick in this Covid situation. 

What was your experience like at Cromwell Hospital? 

It was very good, someone was there to greet me at the door and take me to my room – a room to myself was a real luxury. The care was really attentive, the nurses kept me informed about what was going on and continually checked on me. I stayed in hospital for one night and everyone I dealt with was very positive, pleasant, and knowledgeable. 

How did it feel with all the Covid-19 measures in place? 

The hospital looked paired back to avoid possible sources of infection, but I felt very safe with the temperature checks on arrival and all the staff wearing PPE. 

After my surgery, when I was back at home, I received a call from the hospital to check I was okay.

How are you recovering? 

I’m feeling very well, I've been taking it easy and am careful what I do. I’m feeling much better than I expected after operation, I thought movement would be much more restricted. 

What was it like going through this experience during a pandemic? 

After my cancer diagnosis, I wouldn’t watch the news. The general situation was overwhelming and I was so uncertain as to what would happen next. Having a telephone instead of face-to-face appointment felt very different and having less human contact made it a lot more frightening. 

I was very lucky to have the same consultant from start to finish. This gave me so much reassurance and Michelle, my Macmillan nurse, was a vital contact throughout this process. Having someone at the end of the telephone who understood what was going on, and was able to follow up test results on my behalf. They were both determined to get me in for surgery and having surgery so quickly may well have saved my life! 

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*In April 2020, Cromwell Hospital was appointed by NHS England to support The Royal Marsden Cancer Hub, to make sure cancer patients requiring urgent treatment could still access it during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the start of this partnership, over 6300 patients have had surgery. Cromwell Hospital is proud to support the NHS and its patients. 

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