Sheryl Woods battled aggressive cancer during the first lockdown.
Now a second lockdown means she, and potentially thousands of other patients, cannot get the health services she needs to tell him if he’s back.
Waikato’s woman was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in late 2019.
“They operated and found that it had completely passed through my lymph nodes under my right arm. The lump in my breast was only a few inches, but it had affected six lymph nodes.
The 50-year-old did not need a mastectomy, but had six months of chemotherapy.
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“And then I also had five weeks of radiation therapy after the chemo. And among all that we had the first covid confinement, so my radiotherapy, I had to do on my own. You can imagine it was a pretty bad time.
Woods has now been taking a drug called tamoxifen for 10 years and requires a mammogram and an appointment with a specialist every 12 months.
There’s an 83% chance she’s still ten years old, but a key part is getting her annual mammogram and specialist exam due to the pressure Covid-19 is putting on the healthcare system.
Now late for his second mammogram, when Woods contacted Waikato Hospital for an appointment, there was none available.
“To be told by the reservations clerk, I’m sorry we’re so far behind, I can’t give you an appointment …”
“I explained to him, I have cancer. His exact words to me were “90 percent of people on the waiting list have cancer.”
Woods has learned that the cyberattack that hit Waikato DHB in May and then the Covid-19 lockdowns were the reasons for the delays.
“I’m sure to say I’m a little stressed out by all of this.
“They said we can always get you to have a mammogram, the problem is, as I understand it, I actually need a specialist to sit down with me to tell me what the mammogram says, and that’s what the delay is. “
Waikato DHB did not respond on time.
Woods is concerned about how quickly her cancer might progress.
“I had a clear mammogram less than 12 months before I was diagnosed with cancer, which tells you how quickly it progresses and how a few months can make a huge difference.”
The Breast Cancer Foundation estimates that at least 133 women across the country have no idea they have breast cancer right now,
The organization is “gravely concerned” for women who have not had a mammogram that would have diagnosed them during the current Covid-19 blockages.
The number of undetected breast cancer cases is expected to rise as BreastScreen Aotearoa and private clinics grapple with the fallout from prolonged blockages.
Breast Cancer Foundation research director Adèle Gautier said there were problems accessing mammograms in some areas.
“We’re hearing from people who want their first mammogram and can’t get it, people who missed their mammograms because of covid and can’t make an appointment.
“And then there are the people in the follow-up time, which is a very worrying time … and then they are told that they can’t have it, it’s pretty scary for a patient.”
“Being told they don’t know how long the delay is is really unsettling for her and there has to be a plan to get everyone back.
“Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in New Zealand women under 65, so from our perspective it should never be put on the back burner, especially for someone who has already been diagnosed. breast cancer is not something that should be hijacked or put aside.
The Breast Cancer Foundation wants to see an immediate investment to get rid of the backlog linked to Covid.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said appointments for breast cancer screening had been affected by Covid-19 and the Waikato DHB cyberattack.
Appointments were able to resume from alert level 3.
“All available meeting slots are reserved. Additional sessions are planned. The service is exploring the possibility of increasing the capacity to be able to screen more women. “
The ministry said Budget 21 allocates $ 10 million for the breast cancer screening program to cope with population growth and catch up with the number of screenings missed due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
“Additional funding was needed to catch up with appointments for women whose screening appointments were canceled or delayed. “
The ministry recognizes that restoring rates before the pandemic will take time and that a long-term goal may be more realistic than a short-term catch-up.
“This catching-up is not just a question of funding. This will require additional specialist staff and access to facilities. “