Limitoo News

Mother with breast cancer says Omicron surgery delays frightening, lonely

A woman who had her breast cancer operation delayed twice in the Omicron outbreak feared the "dangerous strangers" in her body would get the better of her.

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File photo. Photo: 123RF

There were about 2500 fewer planned operations in Auckland the first three months of this year, compared with last year, as hospitals scaled back services to cope with Covid patient numbers and hundreds of sick staff.

The 43-year-old mother is one of those who was caught up in the delays.

She found a lump in December and was diagnosed in early January, then suffered an initial hold up for clinical reasons as doctors realised her cancer was in both breasts.

A date was finally set for surgery on 21 March but she got a call a few days beforehand to say there were no theatres available.

She says it was a devastating blow.

"It feels like I've been carrying round a couple of dangerous strangers, unwanted passengers, and the longer that the weeks stretched on the more it seemed like I wasn't going to get there before it started to spread," she said.

She says she hit rock bottom emotionally, worried about her school-aged daughter.

"I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me again because I hadn't expected, perhaps naively, for [the surgery] to be put back," she said.

A new date, 25 March, was set but then that was postponed when her surgeon got Omicron.

This time she was prepared.

"By then I had learnt not to hope that it was going to go ahead - which was a very strange place to be," she said

Her surgery finally went ahead on 1 April, under the Covid protocols which meant she had no one with her.

It was frightening and lonely but the operation went well and she said she received excellent care - especially from the nurses who were clearly incredibly stretched.

The woman is just one of the thousands of people around the country who have had care delayed in the outbreak, and many of whom are still waiting.

Auckland was first in the Omicron wave and planned care figures from its three DHBs show there were 9651 planned care operations carried out from January to March 2022, and 12,793 in the same period in 2021.

The figures are not broken down by month and are likely to be starker for February and March.

In February, the city's three district health boards drastically began to scale back services, stopping nearly all surgeries at Greenlane Hospital, closing a big chunk of Middlemore's elective surgery centre and converting some of Waitematā elective surgery centre to Covid beds.

They were only doing the most urgent surgery.

As daily patient numbers climbed into the hundreds, there were also hundreds of staff who were off sick with the virus some days, exacerbating existing shortages.

The woman said there were already enough barriers to diagnosis, treatment, and survival, especially for people who, like her, are Māori and young.

She wants to highlight the fact that women in their early 40s can get the disease - before they are eligible for free screening - and to act if they are worried.